Patrick Legant is an independent art advisor in London for 19th and 20th Century art as well as specializing in German & Austrian Expressionism. This essay is based upon the show Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy, London (September, 24 2016 - January, 2 2017)
London saw its first major survey exhibition of the then relatively new phenomenon of Abstract Expressionist Art at the Tate (in collaboration with MoMA) in 1959. The show was titled “New American Painting.” Works by Clyfford Still and William De Kooning could have been seen in London already a year earlier in the small but significant show “Some Paintings from the E.J. Power Collection” at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art), curated by the pioneering and influential curator Lawrence Alloway. The show paved the way for the major Tate and MoMA collaboration in 1959—an absolutely new artistic territory for the British audience.
Due to the absence of American Expressionist Art exhibitions in the UK since, the newly opened show “Abstract Expressionism” in London causes again such a stir—possibly as much as it did in 1959. It is almost like a fresh discovery of this “ultimate American” 20th Century movement that finds its origin in German Expressionism and Surrealist art as well as in the notion of the Abstract developed and challenged by artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Pablo Picasso. This time, the esteemed Royal Academy of Arts in London has “taken on” the Americans—to tell the story and to re-introduce the British to the development of Abstract Expressionist Art.
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