THE NEW YORK SCHOOL: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties by Irving Sandier

THE NEW YORK SCHOOL: The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties

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In The Triumph of American Painting (1970), Sandier described the development of the Abstract-Expressionist artists--Pollock, de Kooning, Hofmann foremost--collectively known as the New York School; how that ""loose community"" dissolved into warring camps is the subject of the present, somewhat mistitled study, which takes in diverse artistic tendencies and the vanguard outside New York. Sandler's strengths--appropriate to a chronicler who is not primarily a critic--are lineage, citation, and social setting. He explains the split between total-modernist Pollock (""I am nature"") and tradition-minded de Kooning (""I feel very close to Ingres and Tintoretto""); the hostility of the pioneers and their champions to the non-gestural art of a Barnett Newman; the opposition of the abstractionists in general to the re-emergence of realism (in Larry Rivers or Alex Katz); the overall New-York-School antipathy toward junk-material assemblage (Stankiewicz, Rauschenberg) as ""an anti-art joke""; and so on. . . to the flat, static, ""simple-minded"" heresy of Frank Stella. Unfortunately, however, he also tends to see individual artists chiefly--and schematically--in relation to their predecessors and contemporaries: abstractionist Sam Francis' style, for instance, owes ""its fluidity to Gorky and Rothko, its airiness and luminosity to Rothko, and its all-overness and unbounded expansion to Still, Monet, and to a lesser degree Pollock and Tobey."" But, in compensation, there are the quoted judgments of Clement Greenberg, Meyer Schapiro, Thomas Hess, Harold Rosenberg--not only observers but, as Sandler points out, embattled participants. He was on the spot too, as an activist in the focal Eighth Street Club, and it's this that gives his book a sense of engagement beyond its inherent authority. Here's an art that, as it seemed at the time, existed to be talked about--at the expense of an art that also exists uniquely to be seen and experienced.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row