The Jewish Museum Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art 1940-1976

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Might as well move this out of the way before I fully dive in.  Probably because of no permission from the artist’s estates, the downloads have no reproductions for people to look at while they listen to this series.   Also, the longest podcast does not even go over three minutes.

As you can read from the title, the Jewish Museum devoted this series to the main people of American Contemporary art.  In fact, the podcast works in a somewhat linear fashion from Abstract Expressionism’s beginning to the beginning rumblings of Pop Art.  The podcast makes for a solid introduction to Abstract Expressionism because in the first part, the narrator gives a concise definition to this term.  The museum defines this movement as not depicting nature and instead revolved more around rendering an emotional “spontaneity” in art.  A helpful teaching tool for people who have trouble understanding this era of American art.  And they do not stop with the artists, for the museum teaches the history of critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, two people who wrote about Abstract Expressionists and acted as leaders of this group.  After you finish listening to this series, you will know who they were, what they stood for, and the rivalry between them.  Probably the best educational podcast I have reviewed so far.  Even if you do not care for Abstract Expressionism, you will come away from this acoustiguide fully understanding where the members came from.

Critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg receive many mentions as major promoters of this world.   In nearly every podcast, the museum puts them as role of the guiding hands of the Abstract Expressionists, as they both encouraged and ignored the artists featured in this show.  Furthermore, the Museum does not shy from the juicy gossip and the rivalries that I mentioned earlier.  And my, oh my, those rivalries will leave you amused and thrilled at the same time.  One example comes from the Clyfford Still podcast.  I will not describe it, for you should listen to it yourself on iTunes.

As the podcast goes deep into Rosenberg and Greenberg’s flaws, they do come off as flighty.  The Helen Frankenthaler section had them claiming one movement as outdated and another as brand new and edgy with the speed of lightning.  The acoustiguide did not just revolve around the critic’s beliefs.  For those wondering if this series provides other voices besides these critics, they do.  The artists themselves  talk about their work in the podcast, such as Peter Saul and Anthony Caro discuss their paintings and why they did them.  As with other podcasts, curators describe the paintings and their themes along with the historical context.  They even explain how Pollock created a painting in one part.  For those who desire for obscure moments during this time, the museum discusses less talked about aspects of Abstract Expressionism such as sculpture by Ibram Lassaw, and how Rosenberg and Greenberg liked him despite one of them believing that it did not fit with the group’s goals.

The acoustiguide went beyond the usual White male artists such as Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman, for it gives Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and African-American artist Norman Lewis with their own sections.  When discussing these marginalized artists, the museum acknowledged the discrimination put upon them during their lifetime.  When the museum talks about these maligned people, the opinions Greenberg and Rosenberg rarely show up at all, revealing their bias loud and clear.  I did feel surprise at Claes Oldenberg’s inclusion.  According to the museum, he seemed to straddle the line between Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, much to my amazement.  The museum also points out how artists constantly changed and evolved their art, even if fellow artists and critics disagreed.  Talk about rebelling against the rebels, because when Abstract Expressionism started to make waves, they freaked out a lot of people, as the podcast points out.

All in all, I really enjoyed this series.  However, the podcast did have some technical problems.  The Morris Louis section ended before the narrator stopped talking.

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