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Exhibition Review : Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy – 24th September 2016 to 2nd January 2017

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The Royal Academy of Arts presents the first major exhibition of Abstract Expressionism to be held in the UK in almost sixty years . The exhibition features over 150 paintings, sculptures and photographs from public and private collections across the world and includes works  by acclaimed American artists including Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Phillip Guston, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Aaron Siskind, David Smith and Clyfford Still.

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In 1946, critic Robert Coates coined the term  ‘Abstract  Expressionism’  to describe a new  movement in American art.  The artists who were considered part of this movement did not follow a particular school of painting but were generally Americans living through the politically turbulent times of the 1940s,50s and 60s.

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Arshile Gorky was considered one of the pioneers of Abstract Expressionism by the way that he was able to create a synthesis between various trends such as Cubism and Surrealism.

Three of the first seven rooms of the exhibition are given over to the three most famous names of the movement. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko all bought their own originality to creating works that began to challenge some of the traditional views of painting.

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Jackson Pollock developed a process  of painting that involved a canvas being laid onto the ground and paint being dropped onto the canvas to create intricate webs of paint that built up into a complex tangle of paint and colour.  Pollock’s monumental  Mural (1943) and Blue Poles ( 1952) are shown in the same gallery for the first time in the exhibition.

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Willem de Kooning’s  work often turns its back on pure abstract by alternating between abstraction and figurative. Like many artists, he was inspired by the female form and many of his works such as Woman II ( 1952) have an erotic aspect.

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Mark Rothko maintained many of his paintings were ‘facades’ and the way that the artist created a painting of seemingly simple blocks of colour would suggest they could be taken merely on their ‘face value’. However they create a number of complex responses from the viewer who is often drawn into the picture.

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Many of the other rooms in the exhibition explore some of the many responses of artists to their surroundings in post war America. Gesture as Colour, The Violent Mark and  Darkness Visible  illustrate how some artists responded to the often violent times and urban life.

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Works by Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Clyfford Still are featured in the later rooms with sculptures by David Smith being used in many rooms and outside in the courtyard.

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Whilst Abstract Expressionism is rooted in post war America, it has since garnered universal appeal with some of the best known artists achieving ‘iconic’ status. This exhibition brings together works that illustrate that a diverse group of artists created a particular response to the troubled times they lived in.  Since the growth of interest in Abstract Expressionism, it had tended to divide opinion and is often criticised for being too simplistic. Others admire the often monumental scale of the works and their spontaneity and energy.

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This exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to make their own minds up with one of the largest shows of Abstract Expressionism works ever seen in the UK.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Opening Times

10am – 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm)

Fridays and Saturdays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm)

Admission

£17 full price (£15 without Gift Aid donation); concessions available;

Children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free.

For more information and book tickets, visit the Royal Academy website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
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Exhibition Review : Joseph Cornell – Wanderlust at the Royal Academy from 4th July to 27th September 2015

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The Royal Academy of Arts  presents an exhibition of works by American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972). Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust  offers an overview of the artist’s career , surveying around 80 of Cornell’s  box constructions, assemblages, collages and films.

The last major solo exhibition of Cornell in Europe took place nearly 35 years ago at the Whitechapel Gallery in the UK.  His work is not widely known in the UK and is rarely shown in European museums and Art Galleries. Many of his works are in private collections especially in the USA.

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Joseph Cornell was born in Nyack, New York in 1903, although he was born into a well-off family, the death of his father in 1917, placed the family in strained financial circumstances. Cornell lived for most of his life in Queens, with his widowed mother and disabled brother Robert.

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The exhibition gives us some insight into his early works that were inspired by his love for collecting. He would often wander the streets of Manhattan buying books, engravings, prints, photographs and other objects. His collections, especially his paper ephemera became the material for his works and covered a wide range of interests including opera, European history, ornithology and astronomy.

It is possible that Cornell’s family restrictions gave rise to a heightened imagination in which he would explore far-away times and places and his work  especially the boxes provided a method to enable his creativity to find an outlet.

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The boxes in the exhibition offer intriguing insights into Cornell’s world view in the early part of the 20th century.  Some are relatively straight forward like Pharmacy with its miniature representation of glass bottles found in the local pharmacy. Others illustrate Cornell’s sense of humour, Habitat Group for a Shooting Gallery offers the view of birds behind a shattered glass with a bullet hole.

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The Soap Bubble sets offer perhaps a more enigmatic narrative, old clay pipes share the box with a map of the solar system , a glass and other items. One of his most famous series is the ‘Medici Slot Machines’  which  juxtaposes Old Master paintings with symbols of childhood amusement.

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Cornell never married and often uses the boxes as almost shrines to famous female film stars, opera singers  and ballerina’s. Cornell felt a great affinity to Emily Dickinson and his box Toward the Blue Peninsula : for Emily Dickinson indicates that like her he often felt caged by life and yearned for the blue skies beyond.

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Although sometimes considered to be an outsider from art scene, there is evidence in his dairies that Cornell engaged with the New York art scene at the time. He was friends with Marcel Duchamp and Robert Motherwell; he also knew Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning and received visits from younger artists like Andy Warhol. He exhibited regularly during his lifetime and had gallery representation which helped him sell his work. His influence can be detected in later artistic movements such as Pop Art and  Minimalism. In 1967, he had a retrospective at the Guggenheim in New York – at the time he was only the fourth American artist to receive this honour after Rothko, Alexander Calder and Barnett Newman.

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This intriguing exhibition offers the opportunity for many to discover Joseph Cornell for the first time. His work is often a narrative in which disparate items are bought together in a variety of box constructions, assemblages, collages and films. It is these narratives that often delight, amuse and confuse and probably that was what Cornell intended. They are often enigmatic but deeply personal pieces from an artist whose restricted life experiences gave forth to a vivid imagination.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the Royal Academy website here

Joseph Cornell : Wanderlust
4 July — 27 September 2015
The Sackler Wing, Burlington House
£11.50 (without donation £10).
Concessions available.
Friends of the RA and under 16s go free

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here