Is a strain of recent abstract painting obsessed with revitalizing the celebrated tradition of the 1950s New York School?
A peculiar new show at the Museum of Contemporary Art says yes, proposing that a vigorous revival of Jackson Pollock’s drips, Mark Rothko’s luminous clouds of color, Franz Kline’s muscularity of forms and other painterly concerns from a half-century ago is underway — albeit with a notable twist. The old abstraction recorded the singular hand of the artist at work in the studio. The new abstraction, by contrast, exploits diverse printing processes rather than the paintbrush. Silk-screen is king.
The driving force of the new abstraction is said to be the impersonal, factory-made Pop aesthetic first advanced 50 years ago by the late Andy Warhol (1928-1987), silk-screener extraordinaire. But this focus is too reductive. Set aside is all of Conceptual art, which spread like wildfire in the 1970s, until finally it became the primary idiom of every subsequent sort of new art, whatever the medium.
Another troublesome fly in the ointment is this: Warhol’s abstract paintings were mostly a flop — banal retreads of earlier classic images of Campbell’s soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, flowers and more. Warhol achieved a lot during a relatively short career, especially in the 1960s. But his late foray into abstract painting, which mostly came after his dreams of being a Hollywood movie-maker didn’t pan out, set the bar pretty low.