Art A to Z
Abstract art is art that does not attempt to depict an exact representation of reality, but instead uses forms, colors, shapes and gestural signs to achieve its effect. For this purpose, forms and signs are often used that have no origin in a visible reality. If abstract art is nevertheless based on real existing objects, figures or landscapes, their forms are simplified and schematized.
Since the early 1900s, abstract art has been a central trend in modern art.
Gestural Abstraction is a form of Abstract Expressionism in which the production process of a work of art takes on an even greater significance. The canvas becomes a stage for the artists, who strive for the greatest possible artistic freedom by experimenting with materials and techniques on the format
The term was coined by the French painter Georges Mathieu in 1947 and describes a style of abstract painting. Lyrical abstraction focuses on spontaneous improvisations and directly artistically realized personal feelings. This is achieved through an intuitive and relaxed approach to color, spontaneous expression, the creation of spatial effects primarily through color, the use of acrylic paints and the application of new technological processes.
In Europe, this style developed in Paris in the 1940s with the „Nouvelle École de Paris“ after the Second World War. Some art critics of the time interpreted Lyrical Abstraction as an attempt to regain an artistic identity after the period of National Socialist occupation and collaboration and to strengthen Paris as an art metropolis once again.
At the same time, New York City developed into a leading art city. American Lyrical Abstraction drew on the spirit of Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting and European Tachisme of the 1940s and 1950s.
Abstract Expressionism was the predominant artistic movement in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. It brought the city to the forefront of international modern art for the first time. The artists developed very different stylistic approaches, but were united in one thing: their commitment to abstract art that powerfully expresses personal convictions and deep human values. They championed bold, bold gestural abstraction in all media, especially large painted canvases.
Action Painting understands the act of painting as an event and important for the painterly result. She uses techniques that involve the body, movement and gestures more than traditional easel painting. One can often clearly see broad brushstrokes, drips, splashes or other indications of the physical action that took place on the canvas, which is usually lying on the floor.
All-over is an approach to painting that originated with Abstract Expressionism, in which each area of the picture is given equal attention and importance. The compositions vary widely and include canvases completely covered with layers of paint or filled with brushstrokes, drips, stains or other marks, sometimes with materials unusual for painting (e.g. sand, sawdust) embedded in the surface.
Arte Povera (poor art) was a movement of young Italian artists who attempted to create a new sculptural language through the use of simple, everyday materials. These artists were united by a common revolutionary spirit that was inextricably linked to the increasingly radical political atmosphere in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. By using base and perishable materials such as earth, rags and lettuce heads, the artists of Arte Povera wanted to challenge and disrupt the commercialization of art.
The Artist’s Club (also known as the 8th Street Club) developed from informal meetings of painters and sculptors who had their studios in New York City, Lower Manhattan between 8th and 12th Streets and 1st and 6th Avenues in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was aimed at promoting the dissemination of ideas about art by artists for artists, especially abstract expressionist art. The club gave the New York art scene the vitality and international influence that Paris had long enjoyed.
The term „avant-garde“ (French for „vanguard“) was originally used to describe the vanguard of an army and was first applied to art in France in the early 19th century. Here, the term refers to any artist, movement or work of art that breaks with the status quo and is considered innovative and transgressive. Because of its radical nature and because it challenges existing ideas, processes and forms, avant-garde art has often met with resistance and controversy.
Betty Parsons (1900 – 1982) was once described as „the mother of Abstract Expressionism“. She was an advocate for the great Abstract Expressionist artists long before they became famous, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Ad Reinhardt, Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman. Her Midtown gallery, which opened in 1946 (and was closed every summer so that Parsons could concentrate on her own art), became one of the most renowned art galleries in New York. It was here that the artists of Abstract Expressionism first attracted great attention. In its later years, the Parsons Gallery promoted the work of many gay, lesbian and bisexual artists, including Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.
The term „biomorphic“ is made up of the Greek words „bios“ for life and „morphe“ for form. He describes paintings and sculptures that show abstracted organic forms, which means that it is still possible to recognize that the model for the forms used were living beings, their organs or biological products. The term seems to have come into use in the art context around the 1930s. Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and later Louise Bourgeois also created some great biomorphs with their sculptures at this time.
The documenta is the world’s most important exhibition series for contemporary art. It takes place every five years in Kassel and lasts 100 days. Initially, the show was limited to Europe, but soon also included works by artists from America, Africa and Asia.
The initiator of the first documenta was the Kassel art professor and designer Arnold Bode. At the 1955 Federal Garden Show, he managed to interest more than 130,000 visitors in art. The focus of this first exhibition was art defamed as „degenerate art“ during the Nazi era in Germany. The first exhibition therefore focused in particular on paintings from the 1920s and 1930s. In the following years, the focus shifted to contemporary art.
The second edition of documenta has already established itself as a brand. With the founding of a supporting company, documenta GmbH, the exhibition was institutionalized and was now to take place every four years. The stocktaking of art after 1945 followed the motto „Art has become abstract“. In the fundamental debate about contemporary art at the time, in which supporters and opponents of abstract art engaged in bitter discussions, particularly in Germany, this title was by no means uncontroversial.
The French term Écriture automatique (French for automatic writing) describes a method of writing in which feelings and inner images are expressed unfiltered, spontaneously and without questioning. You can write down individual words, parts of sentences or whole sentences. What is otherwise considered an error in spelling, grammar or punctuation can be desirable and effective under these conditions. The only important thing is that the original individuality of the idea is retained. This form of experimental writing was used particularly in Surrealism.
Expressionism encompasses various stylistic approaches that emphasize intense personal expression. To achieve this, greatly simplified or distorted forms and exaggerated colors that often deviate from the natural model are used. The aim behind this was to turn away from the rigid bourgeois social values that prevailed at the turn of the 20th century and to reject the traditions of state-sponsored art academies. The central themes and genres of Expressionism up to the early 1920s reflect deeply humanistic concerns and a divided attitude towards the advances of modernism. In this way, Expressionism also came to terms with the devastating experiences of the First World War and its consequences.
The Gutai were a Japanese avant-garde group founded in 1954 whose radical ideas and artistic approaches anticipated the later performance and conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s. For example, feet were used to paint a large canvas spread out on the floor or paintings were glued together from layers of newspaper, painted and then perforated. The word „Gutai“ has been translated into English as „embodiment“ or „concrete“.
The Impressionists rejected the established, academic styles and began experimenting in the early 1860s with a lighter palette of pure, unmixed colors, synthetic paints, sketchy brushwork and motifs drawn from their direct observations of nature and everyday life in and around Paris. They worked outdoors en plein air to better capture the fleeting effects of sunlight on the scenes in front of them. Her attention to the rapidly changing patterns of light and color meant that her brushwork became faster and faster, breaking down into individual dabs that better reflected the fleeting quality of light.
In 1874, the first self-organized group exhibition of the artists later known as Impressionists took place in Paris. Most critics made fun of her works, especially Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (1872). It was not recognized as a finished painting, as Monet had captured his impression of the sunrise at the harbour spontaneously, sketchily, with visible brushstrokes and translucent canvas. Critics chose the derisive term Impressionist for two reasons: 1 Monet’s work was called Impression, Soleil levant. 2 At this time, a simple coat of wall paint was also referred to as an „impression“.
Abstract Impressionism emerged in New York City in the 1940s. This art movement works delicately between the lines of pure abstraction (the extent of which varies greatly) and the impressionistic consideration of an impression of reality.
The term is French and refers to many styles of abstract painting that were very widespread, even dominant, in the 1940s and 1950s. It mainly refers to European art, but also includes American abstract expressionism. The term was used by the French critic Michel Tapié in his book Un Art Autre, published in 1952. He regarded this art as „different“ because it seemed to him to be a complete break with tradition. Artists of the Informel movement often used improvised methods and strongly gestural techniques for their abstract painting.
In the 1960s, many artists experimented with an art in which, in contrast to traditional art production, the idea for a work was more important than its realization. In 1967, the artist Sol LeWitt wrote in his essay „Paragraphs on Conceptual Art“ that „the idea itself, even if it is not made visible, is as much a work of art as any finished product“. Conceptual artists used their work to challenge the notion of what art is and to criticize the underlying ideological structures of art production, distribution and presentation.
Cubism was originally a term of derision used by a critic in 1908. He describes the work of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and the artists they influenced. Traditional themes – nudes, landscapes and still lifes – were reinvented in increasingly fragmented compositions. The fragmentation allows several perspectives of a three-dimensional object to be brought into the two-dimensional surface at the same time. This gave rise to a pictorial language whose geometric surfaces and compressed space challenged the conventions of representation that had prevailed in Western painting until then: the relationship between surface and void, figure and ground. The influence of Cubism extended to an international network of artists working in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century and beyond.
The term „painterly gestures“ refers to methods of applying a medium, such as paint, to a surface. Painterly gestures are often very active or expansive body movements. Painting here is a full-body activity, similar to action painting.
Monochrome means „one color“. In terms of art, a monochrome work of art is a work that contains only one color. Some works also show gradations of the chosen base color, e.g. lighter or darker variants, saturated or cloudy hues.
In the 20th century, with the rise of abstract art, many artists experimented with monochrome paintings. The purpose of monochrome for some was to reduce the painting or sculpture to its simplest form, so that the focus is on the purely physical elements of the work: Color, shape, texture, or the way it was made.
The New York School was an interdisciplinary avant-garde movement of painters, sculptors, poets, dancers, musicians and composers that was active in New York City in the 1950s and 60s. Her fame contributed to the fact that the center of the art world shifted from Paris to New York after the Second World War. The visual artists of the New York School primarily created abstract paintings that often used gestural brushstrokes and large areas of color. Although most of the well-known artists of the New York School were white men (immigrants from Europe or first-generation Americans), women and non-white artists also made significant contributions to the movement. The New York School also includes Abstract Expressionism, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.
On May 21, 1951, the group exhibition „9th Street Art Exhibition“ took place in a condemned commercial building on 9th Street in New York City. It is regarded as the „coming-out party“ of abstract expressionism. Only 11 of the 72 artists were women.
They had to struggle with many difficulties: on the one hand to be recognized by the audience as equal female artists, and on the other to be appreciated by their male colleagues. In addition, some of these women were married to successful male artists, whose careers often took precedence in everyday life at the time.
In her 2018 book „Ninth Street Women“, Mary Gabriel describes five women who exhibited in the „Ninth Street Show“ and offers a fascinating insight into the life of the New York art scene in the mid-20th century. She describes the experiences of the artists Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell and Grace Hartigan.
The Nouvelle École de Paris or „Second School of Paris“ refers to an unorganized group of painters who lived and worked in Paris after the Second World War until around 1960. They devoted themselves primarily to abstract painting. Many of these artists were representatives of Lyrical Abstraction and Tachisme. The Nouvelle École de Paris is often used as a synonym for Tachism.
École de Paris was also the name of a series of modern art exhibitions in Paris. The „École de Paris 1957“ at the Galerie Charpentier is considered one of the most important. More than 150 artists took part.
A cultural change took place in Europe in the 17th century. After Italy, France took on the pioneering role. With the construction of the Palace of Versailles, Louis XIV created a model of Baroque splendor that was imitated at all European royal courts. Anyone who was anyone spoke French and the most important impulses for fashion and art at this time also came from Paris. From then on, France and everything French was „en vogue“ and would remain so into the 20th century.
A more liberal atmosphere prevailed in France, and especially in Paris, which continued to attract artists from many countries in the 20th century – either voluntarily or as refugees. The Nouvelle École de Paris, a group of contemporary painters, was founded in the 1940s. However, as it became increasingly expensive to live in the big city, many artists moved to the outlying districts of the time. Montmartre in particular became a bohemian center of attraction.
A performance is a unique situation that an artist creates with a wide range of actions, movements, gestures and choreographies between themselves and the audience. Sometimes, however, various forms of video, photography, objects, written documentation or oral and physical tradition can also be part of the performance art before, during or after.
Pop Art was a movement that first British and then American artists joined in the 1950s and 1960s. Pop artists borrowed images from popular culture – including from television, comic books and print advertising. Their aim was to question the values disseminated by the mass media, such as conventional notions of femininity and domesticity through to consumerism and patriotism. Their strategies of appropriation, which were also viewed critically, included the use of materials and production methods from the commercial world.
In the soak-stain technique, thinned paint is applied to the unprimed canvas and allowed to soak in. Since the paint penetrates completely and uncontrollably into the untreated canvas and usually even penetrates to the reverse side, this technique is full of surprises and „happy accidents“. The artist Helen Frankenthaler was instrumental in developing and applying this method.
The surrealists drew on the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud. They sought to overcome what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by drawing on the sur réalisme (higher reality) of the subconscious. The Surrealists‘ techniques ranged from abstract „automatic“ drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.
Tachism is the name for a movement of abstract art that developed in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s. The name is derived from the French word „tache“, which means „a stain“ or „a splash“ (e.g. of paint). In contrast to variants of abstract art, which primarily used geometric forms, Tachism is characterized by spontaneous brushwork, drips and scribbled marks. Tachisme was the European counterpart to abstract expressionism in America and is practically synonymous with Art Informel.
Texts: Anke Hermneuwöhner, Eleonore Seifert
Editors: Christiane Lutterkort, Laura Rehme, Nadine Kleinken
Concept and realization: Nadine Kleinken