Abstract Expressionism

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Abstract Expressionism 1960

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)

to 1961

"The city was changing. His New York was hot and fervent; now a more ironic and cool city, which Andy Warhol would soon symbolize, was developing around him... There seemed to be no center any longer. 'Where is everybody?' Hans Hofmann asked Elaine [de Kooning], after running into her in the early sixties. 'Nowhere Hans,' she sadly told him." (DK421)

1960: Sketchbook No. 1: Three Americans is released.

Michael Sonnabend and Robert Snyder collaborated on the film - a documentary on Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller and Stravinsky. Franz Kline also appeared briefly, as did Herman Cherry and Harold Rosenberg. (Michael Sonnabend married Leo Castelli's wife, Ileana, after the Castellis divorced in 1959).
(FK180/Roberta Smith, "Michael Sonnabend, 101, Downtown Art Impresario, The New York Times, June 6, 2001)

1960: Clement Greenberg offers Lee Krasner a show.

Greenberg was then working as an adviser to French & Co. Galleries. Lee agreed to a show and Greenberg paid her a visit to see the paintings she planned to show (including Polar Stampede, Charred Landscape and White Rage). He told her he was disappointed by her work and she told him "As of this minute my show is canceled." (JP253) The show never never happened.

1960: Franz Kline is included in Who's Who in Art (London). (FK180)
1960: Barnett Newman finishes his third and forth paintings of the Stations of the Cross series.

Newman completed the third and fourth paintings of the series of works started in 1958 in which he used black paint on raw canvas. He began to think of the series as the Stations of the Cross in 1960. He continued to work on the series for the next six years. During 1960 he also did a series of twenty-two ink drawings on 14 by 10 inch and 12 by 9 inch paper. (MH)

1960: Rothko sells.

Mark Rothko sold the following works during 1960: White, Pink and Mustard (1954) to Ben Heller for $7,000 (RO636n5); Orange and Red on Red (1957) to The Phillips Collection (who would also purchase Ocher Red on Red (1954) in 1964) (RO640fn28); White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) (1950) to David Rockefeller (RO640fn29); and Reds (1957) to Robert and Ethel Scull. (RO422)

White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose) which Rockefeller purchased for $10,000 would, in 2007, break a record for the most expensive postwar painting sold at auction when it went for $72.8 million. (MC)

c. 1960: Mark Rothko buys a house in Manhattan.

The spacious brownstone on East 95th Street cost $75,000. Bernard Reis helped him get a mortgage for $20,000 through Reis' client, lawyer Frank E. Karelsen, Sr., and a second mortgage was taken out in Kate Rothko's name for $16,000. Under the advice of Reis the fourth floor was converted to a studio so that the upkeep of the house would be tax deductible. Rothko seldom worked there and used the studio mostly for the storage of paintings. After buying the house Rothko told friends that he planned on keeping his expenses down to $15,000 a year. (LM46)

Early 1960: Willem de Kooning returns from Italy and hires an assistant.

De Kooning hired Dane Dixon, a younger artist from California, as his assistant. He originally met Dixon in the late fifties and sometimes ran into him at the Cedar and Dillon's. According to a friend of Dixon named Pepe del Negro, "Dane became a sort of guardian for Bill out of pure friendship. He took care of Bill when he was drinking, got him out of scrapes and helped him home." (DK423) Dane would answer the studio door, protecting Bill from people he didn't want to see, help him with the carpentry work for his new studio and stretch canvas for large works of art. He would also help organize parties at the new studio, acting as the bouncer.

De Kooning had a telephone in the studio - his first - and Dane would answer it for de Kooning and also go through the messages on the answering machine, "erasing the mice" - the "mice" being messages from women. A friend of Elaine de Kooning's brother who lived near the studio and could see into its windows recalled that the phone was constantly ringing. According to the friend the phone rang "hundreds of times" and that it was "driving me and my husband crazy." It was driving Bill crazy as well. The friend recalled one incident where "suddenly, seemingly all at once, a window in Bill's studio flies open and a phone and its ripped-out cord fly out and the window slams shut and the phone smashes in the courtyard below, scattering the pigeons." (DK425)

Willem de Kooning:

"New York is a great city, but in the long run I got kind of dried out by everything happening there day and night. I was less and less able to work regularly. Besides, I didn't really feel like running to all these artists' parties. In the long run I didn't even pick up the telephone. It really became quite awful." (DK424)

Early 1960s: The times, they were a-changin'.

From De Kooning An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan:

"During the early 1960s, de Kooning became a man possessed by two contrasting visions of the world: one full of life, the other of despair. He began to dream of leaving New York City and building a studio-home on the land he bought near the sea. At the same time, he flung himself onto the streets of the city, entering a spectral world of alcoholic bingeing and dissipation that often ended in the gutter... For much of 1960 he seesawed between his Tenth Street studio and his Broadway space... The city was changing. His New York was hot and fervent; now a more ironic and cool city, which Andy Warhol would soon symbolize, was developing around him... There seemed to be no center any longer. 'Where is everybody?' Hans Hofmann asked Elaine [de Kooning], after running into her in the early sixties. 'Nowhere Hans,' she sadly told him." (DK421)

1960: Grove Press publishes De Kooning by Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh. (DK68n422)
January 1960: "Adolph Gottlieb: New Paintings" at French & Co. Inc. in New York. (AG173)
January 30 - March 17, 1960: "Ray Gun" exhibition at the Judson Gallery. (BM138)

The exhibition consisted of two environments: The House by Jim Dine and The Street by Claes Oldenburg. The Street consisted of abstract representations of imagery from the streets of New York reflecting the decay of an urban environment. Visitors were encouraged to add their own debris to the installation. (BM26)

From Blam! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism, and Performance 1958-1964 by Barbara Haskell:

"... Oldenburg and Dine began to move beyond traditional forms of expression... Using techniques similar to Kaprow's, Oldenburg and Dine substituted found things for paint and canvas. And like Kaprow, they retained the 'look' and spirit of their Abstract Expressionist predecessors, translating thickly impastoed bravura paint into three-dimensional material textures... Anticipating the open attitude toward commercial imagery that would later find expression in Pop Art, the text accompanying the two environments identified them as having 'derived from American popular art, street art and other informal sources.'" (BM23/6)

Art writer Irving Sandler later recalled a conversation he had with Oldenburg "around 1959" when Oldenburg spoke to him about how he felt that de Kooning and Kline were "already old masters" doing "museum art" and that he "wished to do more."

Irving Sandler:

"Allan Kaprow introduced me to Claes Oldenburg around 1959... He referred to himself as a city artist. 'The street is a marvelous artistic image,' he told me. 'As a spatial idea, it is at once open and closed; everything is in motion, signs go out, windows go in; things hang in the sky, like wires and clothes, or jut up, like lamp poles.' ...Claes said that he had been impressed by 'Kline's and de Kooning's use of line, the way they keep it alive. It is every exciting to me, especially Kline's drawing. But when I came to New York, they were already old masters. Their painting moved me, but it was already museum art. I wished to do more. I hated the four edges of the canvas." (IS266-7)

Oldenburg would also later use the title "Ray Gun" for the home of another installation, The Store, which he ran from from studio at 107 East Second Street (re-named the "Ray Gun Mfg. Co.") on Friday, Saturdays and Sundays during December, 1961 and extended through January 1962 due to its popularity. (See December 1, 1961: Claes Oldenburg opens "The Store.")

March 7 - April 2, 1960: Franz Kline's third solo exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery.

Three of the paintings had been named in recollection of Kline and Guston's drunken spree in Chicago in 1957: Chicago, Calumet City and Orleans, all painted in 1959. (FK126)

March 23, 1960: Queen of Hearts is performed in front of a backdrop painted by Franz Kline.

The backdrop that Kline painted measured 20 by 18 feet making it his largest painting. It was based on one of his earlier drawings on a telephone book page. The Queen of Hearts dancer Merle Marsicano asked him to put a slash of red paint through the center of the painting and Kline obliged. (FK180)

May 4 - 31, 1960: Small solo Rothko exhibition at The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

On exhibit were the two paintings owned by the collection - Mauve Intersection (1948) and Green and Maroon (1953) and five others on loan. Duncan Phillips purchased two of the loaned paintings: Green and Tangerine on Red, 1956 and Orange and Red on Red (1957). (RO648n10)

May/June 1960: Frank Stella's first one-man exhibition at Leo Castelli. (RO428)
Summer 1960: Willem de Kooning and Ruth Kligman spend the summer in Southampton. (DK424)

Their house was located on Main Street and was remembered in particular for a Labor Day party there arranged by Bill and Ruth. At the last minute de Kooning left, abandoning Ruth to host the party herself.

June 7, 1960: Franz Kline departs for Europe with Elisabeth Ross Zogbaum. (FK180)

Kline and Elisabeth flew from New York to Paris. Although Kline was reluctant to visit the Louvre he was persuaded to do so by George McNeil, and ended up spending about an hour in the Italian gallery where the Mona Lisa was hung. (FK180)

June 1960: Franz Kline punches French artist Jean Fautrier at the 30th Annual Venice Biennale. (FK180)

Franz Kline and Elisabeth flew to Venice from Paris (via Milan and Rimini) on June 14th to attend the critics' opening of the Biennale. He was awarded the Italian Ministry of Public Instruction Prize, worth about $1,613 in U.S. dollars. (Other American artists who participated in the Biennale that year were Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann and Theodore Roszak.) (FK180)

The reviews of the Biennale, which concentrated on the European artists, were mostly negative. Time magazine reported (in an article titled "Brickbat Biennale") on July 4, 1960 that Kline had punched the French artist Jean Fautrier (a Biennale prize winner) on the jaw when Fautrier told Kline that his work "stinks." According to Time, the punch "dumped Fautrier on the seat of his pants." ("Brickbat Biennale," Time, July 4, 1960)

June 17, 1960: Franz Kline visits Peggy Guggenheim's collection in Venice. (FK180)

Kline and Elisabeth left Venice on June 19 in a hired car with a driver, stopping in Vicenza the birthplace of Palladio, the architect of the Teatro Olimpico and Villa Malcontenta. While in Vicenza he took a guided tour of the Villa Malcontenta. In 1961 Kline would title a large painting Palladio. (FK180)

June 21 - 22, 1960: Franz Kline visits Ravenna.

After an overnight stay in Verona on June 19th, Kline and Elisabeth stopped in Padua, visiting the Arena Chapel on June 20th. He stayed overnight in Ferrara before arriving in Ravena on the 21st. In 1961 he would title two paintings with names related to his stay in Ravenna - Ravenna and Placidia having been impressed by the Tomb of Galla Placidia. (FK180)

June 24 - 25: Franz Kline visits Orvieto.

After leaving Ravenna, Kline and Elisabeth visited Assisi on June 23rd before continuing to Orvieto. Elisabeth had been taken ill and Kline was becoming homesick. He wrote a postcard to Dan Rice (not postmarked and the writing crossed out): "Takes an awful lot of separation and seeing here is like that - beyond belief - Not like Indiana - like the endless loneliness that I know you know - Best - Franz." (FK180)

July 8, 1960: Franz Kline and Elisabeth fly from Rome to New York.

After visiting Orvieto, Franz Kline and Elisabeth went to Perugia, Urbino and Gubbio (June 26 - July 1) on their way to Florence. In Florence, Kline went to the Calcio in Costume, a night festival and soccer game in Piazza della Signoria. On July 2nd he visited Siena to see the Palio delle Contrade, a festival and horse race in Piazza del Campo. On July 3rd he traveled from Siena to Rome by train. In Rome he visited the catacombs, the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. A group of Italian artists, including Afro and Piero Dorazio gave a party in honour of Kline at a trattoria.

After arriving in New York from Rome, Kline and Elisabeth went to Provincetown for the summer. Kline bought a silver gray Ferrari. (FK180)

Late 1960: Willem de Kooning goes on a bender in San Francisco.

De Kooning stayed in San Francisco for a month, visiting Joan Ward and his and Joan's daughter, Lisa. He did some lithographs in Berkeley and visited local galleries with Bay area artist Nathan Oliveira who he had met in New York in 1958. According to Joan, Bill went on a "tremendous bender" while there, demanding that she and Lisa return to New York or he would cut off contact with her and Lisa completely. They returned in January 1961. When they returned de Kooning lived in his Broadway studio while they stayed at Tenth Street until he found a better apartment for them which he renovated. (DK425).

September 1960: "An Exhibition of British Abstract Painting" at the RBA (Royal Society of British Artists) Galleries, London.

The exhibition was the first British "Situationist" exhibition and is often referred to as the "Situation" exhibition. The show of abstract British art reflected the Abstract Expressionist trend toward large paintings. One of the criteria for inclusion was that works should be more than 30 square feet in area. They were also required to be nonfigurative. Artists included Robyn Denny (who helped organize the show), Richard Smith, Harold Cohen, Bernard Cohen, John Hoyland, William Turnbull, Henry Mundy and Gwyther Irwin.

From University of Warwick:

"Many of the abstract paintings of the 1960s were made with a heightened consciousness of the viewer and their relationship with the artwork. In 1951 the American painter Mark Rothko had stated 'I paint large pictures because I want to create a state of intimacy. A large picture is an immediate transaction: it takes you into it.'

Richard Smith introduced this statement to other artists at the Royal College of Art in 1956. In the "Place" exhibition of 1959 which featured works by Robyn Denny, Ralph Rumney and Richard Smith, it was noted by the media that 'They hang the paintings on the floor'. These large scale abstract paintings were articulated like walls through the gallery space...

In a text written for the catalogue accompanying the Situation exhibition of 1962, Roger Coleman expanded this idea, arguing that the new generation of artists were developing a new concept of space and therefore a new relationship with the viewer. If paintings were denied the possibility of creating the illusion of recessive space then the alternative was for them to expand both in width and height to contain and confine the viewer. This was an 'environmental definition' of painting and was discussed in terms of the viewer's physical negotiation of the paintings . Coleman proposed that the paintings were to be viewed in a way which involved the movement of the head rather than the flick of an eye. One sense of the spatial relationships between the viewer and the artwork was articulated by Gillian Ayres in 1962 when she wrote of painting's own nature - a mark making its own image in its own space - the canvas viewed as a whole image and space - an essence - perhaps like a space a sailor of Magellan's would have felt when the world was flat and he had sailed off the edge'."

November 1960: Barnett Newman rents a space in Carnegie Hall.

Newman kept his Front Street studio while renting an additional space in the Carnegie Hall building at 881 Seventh Avenue. (MH)

November 1960: The Phillips Collection annex, including their Rothko room, opens in Washington.

The annex had a small room of three Rothkos - Green and Maroon (1953), Orange and Red on Red (1957) and Green and Tangerine on Red (1956). The room had been designed specifically to house the paintings. When Rothko visited the room in January 1961 (when he attended Kennedy's inauguration), he decided that the paintings should be arranged differently and the chairs in the room replaced with a wooden bench. The paintings were removed and a bench brought in. But when Duncan Philips, the founder of the collection, visited the room he ordered the paintings returned to their original arrangement.

December 1960: Willem de Kooning punches an Air France engineer at the Cedar.

De Kooning allegedly punched an Air France engineer who was smoking a pipe at the Cedar and the engineer brought a $100,000 lawsuit against him. (DK430) According to de Kooning his elbow hit the pipe, knocking out the guy's bridge. Attorney Lee Eastman represented De Kooning during the legal hassles. (DK475) The suit was eventually settled privately and according to de Kooning biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, "favourably" for Bill.

De Kooning continued to drink during the sixties. Joop Sanders recalled that there was one time, at the height of de Kooning's fame, that Sanders saw him on the Bowery and, at first, thought he was one of the local drunks:

Joop Sanders:

"I was in the [second-hand furniture] store and saw a drunk standing on the street and pointing in the window and mumbling to himself. And I thought, "God, I'd forgotten how horrible the Bowery is and how all these people are totally spaced out at nine in the morning.' And then the guy opens the door and says, 'Joop! Joop!' It was Bill at the very end of a drunk week. I would say... He was having anxiety pains which he thought was angina... He had literally slept in the gutter. Covered with dirt." (DK430)

According to artist Esteban Vincente, Bill was on a first name basis with the tramps in his neighbourhood. He later recalled "They became very good friends with Bill. One day Bill disappeared and one of them said, 'Where is Bill?' 'Oh, Bill moved. He's on Long Island now.' 'I hear,' said the bum, 'he's doing very well these days.'" (DK431)

to 1961

Abstract Expressionism

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Ab Ex Essays