Liv and Rob

A view of the US: The Whitney Series Part 2 - New York and the Post WWII Existential Crisis

Part 2 | New York and the Post WWII Existential Crisis

A view of the US: The Whitney Series.

The world is falling apart, so let’s sooth our souls with some art.

As an ex-pat, I feel I am always looking in as if through a glass barrier. So the Whitney is a really cool experience, because this is the US. Through art. Not art’s prism. Art. Here it is.


Following the tragedy of WWII and the transcendental change that fell upon the post-war world, US artists began to pursue a respondse through art that was deliberately and entirely new.

Morris Louis, Addition Morris Louis, Addition II, 1959

Artist such as Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler explored and developed upon the spontaneous relationship between canvas and material via new techniques evoking the new Abstract Expressionist aesthetic. Other artists were inspired to take European Surrealism forward with exploration of psyche, automatic drawing and personal symbolism in colour and brushstroke.

This is my fave room. Abstract speaks to me more and more as I get older. Ew, did I really write that? It sounds like such wank, but I think it’s true, and I wonder why that is.

Lee Krasner, The Seasons Lee Krasner, The Seasons, 1957

This gorgeous Krasner work was painted after her husband, Pollock, had died in a car accident in 1956. During this period of great personal sorrow, Krasner’s work depicts the Four Seasons in the abstract, in a way few artists had done before. The Seasons meditates on the regenerative aspect of the cycle, with bold colour, modern pictoral form, and depictions of sexuality and the human sex.

Franz Kline, Mahoning

Franz Kline, MahoningFranz Kline, Mahoning, 1956

In viewing Franz Kline’s work, I love to think of Mark Rothko’s quote that these paintings are like dramas, and the shapes are the performers.

With that in mind, Kline’s aggressive strokes, in equal measure the black and the white, are like dancers. Perhaps like Stravinksy’s Le Sacre and the violent dance to the death. The reduction of palette to black and white makes this work really special and striking.

In Krasner’s Addition, colour is also a player on the stage, and the broad strokes speak to me of movement, and life, and light.

David Smith, Hudson River Landscape David Smith, Hudson River Landscape, 1951

The Hudson River holds a significant place in New York history, and features in the work of a lot of New York artists, such as the Spencer Finch piece on the Highline, The River that Flows Both Ways.

The Hudson symbolises the beginning of the colonization of Manhattan, and was the crucial north vein and trade route up the center of the state.

In the present day, in summer as the island melts into pools of body fluid, and garbage juice, the Hudson brings the ocean breeze to the north west greenway of Manhattan providing a source of relief from Chelsea to Washington Heights.

Setting over New Jersey in the west the sun paints the skies deep red, and burning orange over the soft sparkling water of the river all through spring and summer.

David Smith, Hudson River Landscape David Smith, Hudson River Landscape, 1951

And nothing could be more symbolic of New York, immigration, and freedom’s promise at the heart of Capitalism and the free market, than the Staue of Liberty at the Hudson River mouth.

David Smith’s Hudson River Landscape is another such expression of the significance of this natural vein on the city’s west side. He conceptualized the sculptor during train rides up-state, and the position of the work is beautifully curated in full natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows on the museum’s east side, with the city in full view.

Ruth Asawa, Number 1 - 1955

Ruth Asawa, Number 1 - 1955

Ruth Asawa, Number 1 - 1955
Ruth Asawa, Number 1 - 1955,1954

Isamu Noguchi, Solitude Isamu Noguchi, Solitude, 1961

I love the colour, and the broad and generous brushstrokes in both these Guston and de Kooning paintings.

Philip Guston, Dial

Philip Guston, Dial Philip Guston, Dial, 1956

Willem de Kooning, Door to the RiverWillem de Kooning, Door to the River, 1960

I think this Newman lithograph is such an interesting piece, given that he is known predomimently as a colour field painter. It is such a lovely unassuming and under-stated example of Abstract Expressionism.

Barnett Newman, Untitled Barnett Newman, Untitled, 1961

And in the center of this aesthetically invigorating room…

Mark di Suvero, HankchampionMark di Suvero, Hankchampion

I love the different angles of this sculpture. It is so beautifully curated, in this aesthetically harmonious room, surrounded by potent examples of US Abstract Expressionism.

Mark di Suvero, Hankchampion

Mark di Suvero, HankchampionMark di Suvero, Hankchampion, 1960

The, finally, this fascinating Pollock…
Jackson Pollock, Number 27, 1950

Jackson Pollock, Number 27, 1950 Jackson Pollock, Number 27, 1950, 1950

Even though I am not a huge Pollock fan, I love the colours in Number 27, 1950.

It also appeals to the romantic in me that Krasner’s The Seasons hangs opposite this Pollock painted in 1950 in his famous drip paint technique with the canvases lying horizontal on the floor.

The Pollock provides a fitting segway into the final piece of this floor, moving into post-WWII art and the rise of veuyerism, exhibitionism, and circus in US culture, which I’ll talk about in part 3 of this series!

Come to New York, go to the Whitney, check out the post-war Abstract Expressionists, and let us know what you think!

Happy travelling!

Liv and Rob xx

Olivia Jones

Liv and Rob are two possums living in the US. We like music, and soccer, and some other things. Enjoy our blog. <3 us