Abstract Expressionism

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Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism 1952

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)
1952: Max Ernst returns to France.

Ernst and Dorothea Tanning moved to France after having lived in Arizona for about five years. (SS415)

1952: Adolph Gottlieb designs the Ark curtain for Congregation B'nai Israel, Milburn, NJ.
1952: Adolph Gottlieb designs and supervises construction of 1300 square foot stained glass facade for The Milton Steinberg Memorial Center, NY.
1952: Adolph Gottlieb's first "Imaginary Landscape" shown at Kootz Gallery, NY.
1952: Franz Kline helps paint 'Vote for Adlai' signs for a fund raising event at the Roosevelt Hotel. (FK179)
January 1952: Philip Guston has a solo show at the Peridot Gallery in New York.

Dore Ashton [Guston biographer]:

In January 1952 at the Peridot Gallery Guston offered his first one man exhibition in New York since 1945. The calligraphic lightness of these paintings was quickly perceived by other painters as an innovative mode of great promise. The silvery sparseness and the effect of vibrato were tremendously moving. The show was a significant event and, as a result, Guston joined the Egan Gallery which, at the time, was regarded as an important showplace for artists of the New York School. (DA101)

Musa Mayer [Guston's daughter]:

... he [Philip Guston] worked at night, taking long walks through the deserted streets when the painting wasn't going anywhere, stopping off at the Cedar Street Tavern, the artists' hangout, to see who was there. Often, he would just be getting up when I came home from school. I'd find him sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a hangover with a cup of black coffee, coughing terribly from the cigarettes he smoked incessantly.

There was exhilarating company for Philip in New York, - especially his closest friend of the fifties and sixties, Morton Feldman, the composer, whom he'd met through John Cage... My father went with Cage and Feldman to hear D.T. Suzuki lecture and, for a time, became interested in Zen Buddhism and the significance of 'the void... (MM61)

Philip Guston:

Cage and Feldman were in my studio, in 1951 or 1952 and I had done what were probably the sparest pictures of all... I think one painting just had a few colored spots on it and lots of erasures. John Cage was very enthusiastic about it, and he said, 'My God Isn't marvelous that one can paint a picture about nothing!... (MM61)

1952: The Museum of Non-Objective Painting changes its name to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. (PP320)
January 2, 1952: Abstract films at the Club with speaker Len Lye, introduced by Herman Cherry. (NE165)
January 8 - 26, 1952: "Adolph Gottlieb" Exhibition at the Kootz Gallery. (AG173)
January 16, 1952: Discussion/members only at the Club. (NE165)
January 18, 1952: "Expressionism I" at the Club with moderator Harold Rosenberg and panelists Philip Guston, Ad Reinhardt, Jack Tworkov, William Baziotes and Franz Kline.

Philip Pavia described the evening as a "free for all." (NE165)

January 23, 1952: Discussion on expressionism continues at the Club - members only. (NE165)
January 25, 1952: "Abstract Expressionism II" at the Club with moderator John Ferren and panelists Adolph Gottlieb, Harry Holtzman, Elaine de Kooning, Burgoyne Diller and Peter Busa. (NE168)
January 30, 1952: Business meeting at the Club with membership election. (NE169)
c. Early 1952: Jackson Pollock tries Grant Mark's Emulsion. (JP226)

Pollock was still trying to control his drinking. During 1951, Lee had taken him to see Ruth Fox, a therapist on Lexington Avenue specializing in alcoholism. She prescribed Antabuse - a drug which causes nausea if a person drinks on it - Jackson took the drug and continued drinking. (JP226)

Grant Mark, a chemist on East Sixty-fifth Street was recommended by Lee's homeopathic physician, Dr. Elizabeth Hubbard for his "Emulsion" for "total well-being" made up of various organic substances. Pollock had to drink one quart per day for three months, costing hundreds of dollars. On one of his visits to the doctor Pollock stopped off for a drink before returning to the Springs and was unable to remember where he left the expensive medicine - he had lost seven bottles. On March 30th, Pollock wrote to Alfonso Ossorio about the treatment, "I feel I have been skinned alive." (JP 227)

January 1952: Jackson Pollock's contract with Betty Parsons expires. (PP326-7)

Pollock wanted to leave the gallery but Parsons convinced him to stay until May in order to sell some of the paintings from the 1951 exhibition. (PP327)

January/February 1952: Willem de Kooning stops painting Woman I and starts again.

According to de Kooning biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, "In January or February 1952, more than a year and a half after he began the picture, de Kooning almost found an image that satisfied him. And yet, not quite... In the end, de Kooning angrily ripped Woman I off the frame and left it in the hallway by his door, with a stack of old cardboard and odds and ends of wood. He seemed finally to have accepted failure in that one picture. He did not abandon the struggle, however, or return to abstraction. Instead, he began three other Woman pictures." (DK329) Later that year the art historian Meyer Schapiro visited de Kooning in his studio, saw Woman I and told de Kooning that there was nothing wrong with the picture. De Kooning went back to work on it and pronounced it finished in mid-June 1952. But then started working on it again in December. (DK331/336)

January/February 1952: Clement Greenberg defends Barnett Newman.

In "Art Chronicle: Feeling is All" published in Partisan Review (Jan. - Feb. 1952), Greenberg criticized Newman's detractors, defended his exhibitions in 1950 and 1951 and wrote "Newman is a very important and original artist." (MH)

Early 1952: Mark Rothko rents a studio at 106 West 53rd Street. (RO313)

It was Rothko's first studio that was separate from his home. (RO314)

Mark Rothko in his studio, 1952
(Photo: Kay Bell Reynal)

February 1, 1952: "Abstract Expressionism III" at the Club.

Moderator was Martin James. Panelists: George Amberg, Robert Goldwater, Ruth Iglehart, Kurt Seligman and Ad Reinhardt. Philip Pavia listed "audience participants" as Milton Resnick and Fritz Glarner. (NE168)

February 1952: Clement Greenberg on "Jackson Pollock's New Style" in Harper's Bazaar.

Pollock had referred to what Greenberg called his "new style" in a note to Alfonso Ossorio dated June 7, 1951: "I've had a period of drawing on canvas in black - with some of my early images coming thru - think the non-objectivists will find them disturbing - and the kids who think it's simple to splash a Pollock out." (PP326)

Clement Greenberg [from "Jackson Pollock's New Style," Harper's Bazaar (February 1952), p. 174]

The references to the human form in Pollock's latest paintings are symptoms of a new phase but not of a reversal of direction. Like some older masters of our time he develops according to a double rhythm in which each beat harks back to the one before the last...

In Pollock's by now well-known second period, from 1947 to 1950, with its spidery lines spun out over congealed puddles of color, each picture is the result of the fusion, as it were, of dispersed particles of pigment into a more physical as well as aesthetic unity... In these latest paintings, however, the unity of the canvas is more traditional, therefore more open to imagery. Black, brown, and white forms now move within a thinner atmosphere, and around central points, not thrusting as insistently as before toward the corners to assert the canvas's rectangular shape and block it out as a solid physical object.

Even so, this change is not as great as it might seem. Line and the contrast of dark and light became the essential factors for Pollock in his second phase. Now he has them carry the picture without the aid of color and makes their interplay clearer and more graphic... (PK80)

Poet/writer Selden Rodman would also make reference to Jackson's change of style in his book, Conversations with Artists. Although he interviewed Pollock for his book in 1956, he recalls that his first visit to Pollock's studio in the Springs took place four years earlier.

Selden Rodman [1956]:

I had heard rumors of the difficulties Pollock was having even four years ago, and they had been confirmed on my first visit to Springs. He had been trying to freshen or diversify his style by reintroducing figures, or at least figurative patterns, in the maze of paint. It was about the time de Kooning's Woman was attracting a lot of attention, de Kooning himself having momentarily abandoned the nonobjective for some pretty savage shafts directed at the feminine sex. Whether de Kooning diverged first, I don't know. It really doesn't Matta as Ad Reinhardt, the Abstract Expressionist wit, would say. Pollock's trouble was stemming from the fact that the critics, having caught up with his weblike style after ten years of protest - at least having got used to it - resented the change. "At least Pollock was unique," they were saying in effect, "but now he begins to look like a hundred other abstractionists who can't make up their minds whether images are taboo or not." (CW77)

February 6, 1952: Discussion/members only at the Club. (NE168)
February 8, 1952: "Art and the Absolute" (on Malraux) at the Club with speaker Heinrich Blücher. (NE168)
February 13, 1952: Discussion/members only at the Club. (NE168)
February 15, 1952: "Question to Lionel Abel" at the Club with speaker Milton Resnick.

Philip Pavia described the evening as "Absolute chaos." (NE168)

February 22, 1952: "Conversation with Lionel Abel" at the Club.

Moderator: Mercedes Matter. Panelists: Jack Tworkov, James McNeil, Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline. Philp Pavia described the evening as "Very lively audience." (NE168)

L to R: Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning
(Photo: Maurice Berezov)

February 29, 1952: Two comic films by Rudy Burckhardt and the Tibor de Nagy Marionettes (directed by John Myers) at the Club. (NE168)
March 3, 1952: Party for Jack Tworkov after his opening at the Egan Gallery. (NE168)
March 7, 1952: "Abstract Expressionism IV" at the Club. (NE168)

Moderator: John Myers. Panelists: Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, Al Leslie and Frank O'Hara. (NE169)

March 7 - 31, 1952: "Jackson Pollock 1948 - 1951" exhibition opens in Paris.

Alfonso Ossorio had arranged the one-man show at Studio Paul Fachetti, a photography studio and gallery in Paris. Michael Tapié helped to organize it. (PP327) 15 works were exhibited. Two sold. The owner of the gallery did not return his paintings or pay for the sold works until about a year later after Pollock sent a friend to the gallery to sort the matter out. (JP229)

March 14, 1952: "Contemporary Music" at the Club with speaker John Cage, introduced by Frederick K. Kiesler. (NE169)
John Cage at the Club

Announcement for John Cage "Contemporary Music" at the Club

March 19, 1952: Club discussion at the Cedar Tavern. (NE169)
March 20, 1952: Business meeting at the Club with voting members. (NE169)
March 21, 1952: "Structural Concepts in Twentieth Century Art (Abstract Expressionism V)" at the Club.

Moderator: Peter Busa. Panelists included James Johnson Sweeney.

March 25, 1952: Club discussion - "Isolation of the Arts" - at the New School in Peter Blake's course, by speaker Howard Devree (New York Times critic) (NE169)
March 28, 1952: "The Purist Idea (Abstract Expressionism VI)" at the Club, with moderator Harry Holtzman and panelists James Fitzsimmons, Paul Brach, Ad Reinhardt and John Ferren. (NE169)
Early April 1952: Mark Rothko rejects offer to teach at Black Mountain College.

Rothko would have been paid $160 for a summer session lasting eight weeks, plus a $100 travel allowance and room and board for the artist and his family. The reason for Rothko's rejection is unknown. (RO348)

April 1 - 19, 1952: Robert Motherwell solo exhibition at the Samuel Kootz Gallery. (MR135)
April 4, 1952: "Cafe Night (Abstract Expressionism VII)" at the Club - open discussion and conclusion of series of seven panels. (NE169)
April 9-July 27, 1952 "Fifteen Americans" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.

Included Mark Rothko (who showed 8 pictures in a gallery room of his own), William Baziotes, Herbert Ferber, Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Bradley Walker Tomlin.

In the text for the catalogue, Dorothy Miller noted that the abstract art of these painters was "the dominant trend in mid-century American painting." (RO299)

Dorothy Miller:

[When] the Museum's truck brought the [Rothko] paintings in he [Rothko] had changed my selection and added a number of other pictures which I had no room for. I had considerable difficulty with Rothko since he did not wish to allow me to arrange his gallery. He wanted to have the four walls of the gallery completely covered with paintings touching one another, and he did not wish to accept the Museum's gallery lighting proposing instead to have blazing lights in the center of the ceiling. (RO303)

Although the exhibition included both Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, it did not include Barnett Newman. An exhibition catalogue inscribed to Newman from Still reads: "To my friend Barnett Newman who, also, should have been represented in this exhibition." (MH) According to Newman's wife, Annalee, Rothko and Barnett "drifted apart" because her husband felt that Rothko had not pushed for him to be included in the show. Still had apparently told Newman that Rothko had actively sought to "keep him [Newman] out." According to Sally Avery, other artists thought "it a little presumptuous" for Newman to even start painting. When his "zip" paintings were shown at Betty Parsons Gallery in 1950 and 1951, they received a hostile reaction by some artists who saw him as a writer rather than a painter. Annalee later recalled that Barnett felt "betrayed," causing him to withdraw his work from Parsons' gallery and refuse to show again in New York until 1959. When he sent Newman and Still an invitation for the opening of the 1959 exhibition, he wrote on the invitations "You are not invited to the opening." (RO346)

On December 18, 1953 Still criticized Newman and Rothko in a letter he wrote to Alfonso Ossorio. He didn't know whether to "withdraw totally" or to "spend another chunk of life slugging it out with Newman, Reinhardt, and Rothko and show them up for the Bauhaus bullies they are. They have really put over a terrific fraud; Rothko even naming the time, five years, that it would take them to achieve their notoriety." (RO347)

Pollock showed eight paintings in "Fifteen Americans" including Number 5, 1948; Number 2, 1949; Number 7,1950; Number 28, 1950; Number 29, 1950; Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, 1950; and Number 22, 1951. (PP327)

When the exhibition traveled to Europe, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still both refused to let their work travel with it. (RO374)

April 9, 1952: Informal discussion/members only at the Club. (NE169)
April 11, 1952: "Image in Poetry and Painting" at the Club.

Moderator: Nicolas Calas. Panelists: Edwin Denby, Reuven Todd, Frank O'Hara and Gascoyne. Described by Philip Pavia as the "coming of the poets." (NE169)

April 16, 1952: Discussion/members only at the Club. (NE169)
April 19, 1962: "Integration of Art and Architecture" (with slides) at the Club.

Speakers were Frederick Kiesler, Edwin Denby, Ray Hendler and Elaine de Kooning. They were introduced by Clement Greenberg who "said nothing" according to Philip Pavia. Sponsor: Alcopley. (NE170)

April 25, 1952: "Problems of the Engaged Artist" at the Club.

Moderator: John Ferren. Panelists: Barnett Newman, Emanuel Navaretta, Lionel Abel, Edwin Denby, Ray Hendler and Elaine de Kooning. Philip Pavia described the evening as "Existentialism." (NE170)

May 2, 1952: "Creativeness and Neurosis" at the Club with speaker Dr. Frederick Perls. (NE170)
May 1952: Jackson Pollock joins the Sidney Janis Gallery.

Jackson left Betty Parsons, still unhappy with sales, and joined the Sidney Janis Gallery located across the hall from Parsons at 15 East 57th Street. (PP327)

May 14, 1952: "New Poets" at the Club.

Moderator: Larry Rivers. Sponsor: Elaine de Kooning. Introduced by Frank O'Hara. Panelists: John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, James Schuyler. (NE170)

May 21, 1952: "Abstract Color Films" at the Club.

Introduced by Alcopley. Panelists: Eldon Reed, Bill Sebring, Ted Connant. Philip Pavia notes "new names." (NE170)

May 23, 1952: Informal get together at the Club. (NE170)
May 30, 1952: Meeting/members only at the Club. (NE170)
Summer 1952: Willem de Kooning stays with Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend in the Hamptons.

Although de Kooning was separated from Elaine (in NY he lived in his studio while she lived in the apartment on Carmine Street) she accompanied him to the Hamptons to stay with Leo Castelli and his wife Ileana in their home on Jericho Road on the outskirts of East Hampton. De Kooning set up a studio in a screened porch but Castelli said that he completed little. A regular guest at Castelli's home was the art critic Harold Rosenberg who had a summer cottage in the Springs. Jackson Pollock also showed up regularly to visit de Kooning, leaving his Model A running in the driveway. (DK335)

June 12, 1952: Business meeting at the Club.

Described by Philip Pavia as "Final business meeting before the exodus to East Hampton and Cape Cod." (NE170)

July 1952: Jack Tworkov arrives at Black Mountain College to teach during the summer session. (FD3)
August 1952: Franz Kline arrives at Black Mountain College to teach during the summer session. (FD3)

Kline had been notified in April that he was hired for the college. Fielding Dawson was one of his students and would continue his friendship with Kline in New York, often spending time with him at the Cedar Street Tavern during the 1950s. Dawson recalled that Kline's "teaching was informal. Once a week we brought our paintings into the drawing/painting room (which overlooked the gravel patio by the lake), and we had a discussion; on other days Franz came to our studios, knocked softly on the door, entered, and after some shy small talk, while his eyes distilled the pictures into memory, he, in that Klineness he was, made suggestions." (FD6)

Robert Rauschenberg studied under both Tworkov and Kline during this summer session. (MK76)

Summer 1952: John Cage's Theater Piece No. 1 is performed at Black Mountain College.

From Rauschenberg: Art and Life by Mary Lynn Kotz:

The White Paintings [by Robert Rauschenberg] were first shown at Black Mountain that summer of 1952 in the dining hall, as part of what came to be known as 'The Event,' Cage's Theater Piece No. 1. It was a seminal event, in the development of American theater, from which emerged the theater of mixed means. The Happenings that later occupied the art world are traced to this first evening's activity staged by Cage at Black Mountain. The Theater Piece involved a simultaneous, and unrelated, reading of poetry, dance, music, 'chance action,' and paintings. Four panels of Rauschenberg's White Painting were suspended from the ceiling in the form of a cross, and used as screens for the projection of slides, a flickering eight-millimeter film, and as background for the action. Cage, Mary Caroline Richards, and Charles Olson stood on ladders reading poetry Merce Cunningham danced his way through the audience, and David Tudor played Cage's music on a 'prepared' piano, in which the sound was dampened by inserting pieces of felt and wood between the strings. The effect was like that of percussion instruments. Rauschenberg stood underneath his own White Painting, repeatedly switching on and off an old Edison horn record player, playing scratchy old Edith Piaf recordings...

The Cage "event" is often considered as a precursor to the Happenings of the late fifties/sixties.

August 1952: Barnett Newman moves his studio to 100 Front Street.

Newman moved into his new studio after his lease was terminated at his previous studio at 110 Wall Street (around the corner from his new studio). (MH)

August 22 - 23, 1952: Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Barnett Newman attend the 4th Annual Woodstock Art Conference. (RO623fn53)

Motherwell was one of the speakers at the conference, with other speakers being John Ashford, George Boas, James Fitzgibbons, Harry Holtzman, Susanne K. Langer, George L.K. Morris, Barnett Newman, David Smith and Robert Wolff. According to Motherwell, about 100 people attended the conference. (RO623n53)

During a discussion session with the philosopher, Susanne Langer, Barnett Newman attacked professional aestheticians, saying "I feel that even if aesthetics is established as a science, it doesn't affect me as an artist. I've done quite a bit of work in ornithology; I have never met an ornithologist who ever thought that ornithology was for the birds." Later he would say "Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds." (MH)

September 12, 1952: Party for Volume Four of "Malraux's opus" at the Club. (NE171)
September 24 , 1952: First business meeting (members only) of the season at the Club. (NE171)
Autumn 1952: Willem de Kooning moves to 88 East Tenth Street. (DK336)

Harold Rosenberg "dropped in several times a week to talk about art," often bringing a bottle. (DK336)

Autumn 1952: Willem de Kooning begins an affair with Joan Ward.

Joan and her twin sister Nancy had started hanging out at the Cedar Street Tavern in approximately winter/spring of 1951-2. (DK347) Both were commercial artists, with Joan working at the J.M. Mathes advertising agency whose clients included Canada Dry Ginger Ale. According to Joan, "We were raised on commercial art. We loved the great illustrators." Their father was English and had met their mother at the Art Students' League. During the Depression Joan and Nancy's parents separated and their father joined the army. The twins and their mother moved to Clark's Green, a small town near Scranton, Pennsylvania after the separation. In 1945, after graduating from high school, the twins moved to New York and enrolled in the Arts Students League while living in the Artists' Building on Tenth Street in a studio apartment that their father decorated for them. By the spring of 1952 Joan would sometimes stop by de Kooning's studio after work and de Kooning would buy a pint of whiskey from the liquor store across the street which they would share. Joan became smitten with the artist, later saying, "There was never anyone else for me." (DK349) In 1953 Joan would become pregnant with Willem's child and de Kooning found a doctor to perform an abortion. She later said that she spent most of the year after her abortion as a depressed "wreck," adding "If I could have afforded it, I would have had a nervous breakdown." (DK349)

October 3, 1952: "On Music" at the Club with speaker Henry Cowell, introduced by John Cage.

Although Philip Pavia described this evening as the "Beginning of Cage influence: Zen" in Club Without Walls: Selections from the Journals of Philip Pavia, Cage had already appeared at the Club on at least three occasions: February 9, 1951, May 25, 1951 and March 14, 1952.

October 11, 1952: Discussion/members only at the Club. (NE171)
October 31, 1952: "Artaud" at the Club with speaker M.C. Richards, introduced by John Cage.

Philip Pavia described this as "Zen." (NE171)

November 7, 1952: "Things Seen in Europe" (slide show) with speakers Ad Reinhardt and Martin James at the Club. (NE171)
November 10 - 29, 1952: Jackson Pollock's first solo exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery.

The exhibition consisted of twelve paintings from 1952 including Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952 and Convergence: Number 10, 1952. (PP327)

Press reaction was favourable. Art News voted it the second best solo show of the year in their January 1953 issue - first place was Joan Miró. By the time the exhibition closed, however, only one painting had sold - Number 8, 1952. The $1,000 Jackson received from the sale was the only money he earned from the gallery that year. (JP235)

November 14, 1952: Four art films at the Club - selected by the Art Film Festival Committee. (NE171)
November 17 - 30, 1952: "A Retrospective Show of the Paintings of Jackson Pollock" at Bennington College in Vermont.

The retrospective in a barn on the campus was organized by Clement Greenberg and consisted of eight paintings - the earliest being Pasiphaë (c. 1943) and the latest Echo: Number 25, 1951. After it closed at Bennington it traveled to Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts. (JP236)

Both Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner attended the opening reception on November 16, 1952. When Greenberg saw Pollock pouring himself a drink at the bar, he shouted at him to put the drink down. Pollock replied by calling Greenberg a fool. They didn't speak again for nearly two years. (JP237)

November 20, 1952: Business meeting/members only at the Club. (NE171)
December 1952: "Kline Paints a Picture" by Robert Goodnough is published in Art News.

The article concentrated on Kline painting Abstract Painting (later re-titled Horizontal II). (FK179)

December 1952: Harold Rosenberg's "The American Action Painters" appears in Art News. (RO385)

Harold Rosenberg:

At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act - rather than as a space in which to reproduce, redesign, analyse or "express" an object, actual or imagined... Call this painting "abstract" or "Expressionist" or "Abstract-Expressionist," what counts is its special motive for extinguishing the object, which is not the same as in other abstract or Expressionist phases of modern art... Many of the painters were "Marxists" (WPA unions, artists' congresses); they had been trying to paint Society. Others had been trying to paint Art (Cubism, Post-Impressionism) - it amounts to the same thing. The big moment came when it was decided to paint... just to PAINT. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from Value - political, aesthetic, moral... So far, the silence of American literature on the new painting amounts to a scandal. (AT589-92/DK353)

December 5, 1952: Party with Pierre Boulez at the Club.

Philip Pavia described the evening as "Talking until midnight."

December 9, 1952: Farewell party for David Hare.

Hare was returning to Paris with his new wife, Jacqueline Lamba, who had previously been married to André Breton. (NE171) She and Breton had split up in 1943.

December 12, 1952: "American Criticism of American Painting" at the Club.

Moderated by John Ferren. Panelists: Robert Goldwater, John Fitzsimmons (editor of Art International) and James Thrall Soby. (NE171)

December 19, 1952: "American Criticism" at the Club.

Moderator: Martin James. Panelists: Thomas B. Hess (editory of Art News), Alfred Frankfurter (publisher of Art News) and Clement Greenberg. (NE172)

December 20, 1952: Mark Rothko refuses to participate in the Whitney Annual.

In a letter to Lloyd Goodrich dated December 20, 1952 Rothko (who once referred to the the Whitney as a "junkshop" (RO232)) refused to submit paintings for the Whitney Annual which was being organized at the time. He also refused any potential purchases by the Whitney.

Rothko had participated in seven Whitney Annuals in five years, from 1947 to 1951. (There were separate annuals for painting and sculpture, watercolours and drawings.) (RO604) He would also decline an invitation to participate in "The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors" in 1954, although he was willing at that time to sell the museum a painting. In 1957 he again refused to participate in a Whitney competition. (RO604-5fn4)

Mark Rothko:

My reluctance to participate [in the Annual], then, was based on the conviction that the real and specific meanings of the pictures was lost and distorted in these exhibitions. It would be an act of self-deception for me to try to convince myself that the situation would be sufficiently different, in view of a possible purchase, if these pictures appeared in your permanent collection. Since I have a deep sense of responsibility for the life my pictures will lead out in the world, I will with gratitude accept any form of their exposition in which their life and meaning can be maintained, and avoid all occasions where I think that this cannot be done. I know the likelihood of this being viewed as arrogance. But I assure you that nothing could be further from my mood which is one of great sadness about the situation... Nevertheless, in my own life at least, there must be some congruity between convictions and actions if I am to continue to function and work. (RO304)

Rothko's paintings weren't just "oil on canvas," they were part of his soul:

Donald Blinken [art collector who purchased his first Rothko in 1956]:

The one thing Rothko could not tolerate was what he viewed as infidelity to his art... once you had it, he was very unhappy if you decided in six months really you didn't want it, or you sold it to someone else for something else or traded it in. He felt that was a kind of betrayal, because what you were acquiring from him was, yes, oil on canvas, but it was also a part of his psyche and his feeling about the world... (RO306)

According to Herbert Ferber, Rothko once gave a painting to a dealer in the 1950s who had let him use space in an empty building he owned for a studio and "then subsequently Rothko heard that this fellow wanted to sell his painting, and he walked into the man's home and slashed the painting." (RO25)

December 26, 1952: Christmas party at the Club.

Philip Pavia summarized the The Club's activities in 1952 as "We found our name: Abstract Expressionism. New elements were invading the Club: John Cage and Zen thinking. Frank O'Hara and the new poets." (NE172)

to 1953

Abstract Expressionism

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