Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976

May 4 - September 21, 2008

A fresh look at the painting and sculpture that transformed the art world in the years after World War II, Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976 features over fifty key works of postwar art, revealing the cultural and intellectual framework of Abstract Expressionism, the movements that followed it, and popular culture’s fascination with the art and artists of the period.

In Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, the first major U.S. exhibition in 20 years to rethink Abstract Expressionism and the movements that followed, over fifty key works by 32 artists — among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and Mark Rothko — will be viewed from the perspectives of influential, rival art critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, the artists, and popular culture.

Beginning in the 1940s, artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning created paintings and sculptures that catapulted American art onto the international stage, making New York City the successor to prewar Paris as the mecca for the avant-garde. Two rival art critics played a crucial role in the reception of the new American painting and sculpture: the highly influential New York intellectuals Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. In the pages of magazines as diverse as Partisan Review, The Nation, ARTnews, and Vogue, these critics wrote incisively about seismic changes in the art world, often disagreeing with each other vehemently.

By interpreting the significance of the most daring art of their times, their advocacy propelled the artists and their art to the forefront of the public imagination. By the late 1950s, Pollock and de Kooning were household names and Abstract Expressionism was widely known throughout America and internationally.

In a period fueled by Cold War politics, the mushrooming of mass media, and surging consumerism, Rosenberg promoted action — his idea of the creative, physical act of making art — against Greenberg’s belief in abstraction and the formal purity of the art object. The artists they championed included Pollock and de Kooning, Hans Hofmann and Arshile Gorky, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell, Jules Olitski and Philip Guston, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. Action/Abstraction presents major paintings and sculptures from this decisive era, surveying the first generation of Abstract Expressionists as well as later artists who built on their achievements. Context rooms in the exhibition feature documents — including personal correspondence, magazines and newspapers, film and television clips, and photographs — that shed light on the cultural and social climate of the 1940s to the 1970s. The works in the exhibition, arranged in thematic sections, are grouped to evoke the rivalry of Greenberg and Rosenberg and the epic transformation of American art in the postwar period.


  • Willem de Kooning
  • Jackson Pollock
  • Lee Bontecou
  • Anthony Caro
  • Hebert Ferber
  • Helen Frankenthaler
  • Arshile Gorky
  • Philip Guston
  • David Hare
  • Grace Hartigan
  • Hans Hofmann
  • Jasper Johns
  • Allan Kaprow/Martha Rosler
  • Lee Krasner
  • Ibram Lassaw
  • Norman Lewis
  • Seymour Lipton
  • Morris Louis
  • Joan Mitchell
  • Barnett Newman
  • Kenneth Noland
  • Claes Oldenburg
  • Jules Olitski
  • Ad Reinhardt
  • Mark Rothko
  • Peter Saul
  • David Smith
  • Saul Steinberg
  • Frank Stella
  • Clyfford Still
  • Anne Truitt

Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976 has been organized by the Jewish Museum, New York in collaboration with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Leadership support has been provided by the Weissman Family Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency, and the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.
The exhibition is sponsored by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation.
Additional funding has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; the Schaina and Josephina Lurje Memorial Foundation; The Donald and Barbara Zucker Foundation; the Roy J. Zuckerberg Family Foundation; the New York Council for the Humanities; Ruth Albert; the Laurie Kayden Foundation; the Robert Lehman Foundation; Lief D. Rosenblatt; Barry and Teri Volpert; and the Alfred J. Grunebaum Memorial Fund.
The catalogue is supported by the Dorot Foundation publications endowment.


Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.