CLEVELAND (November 2012) – Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Museum of
Art announced the award of two grants totaling $500,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
to support the launch of the re-designed Joint Doctoral Program in Art History. The highly selective,
object-oriented program features first-hand study of the museum’s comprehensive collections under
the guidance of Case Western Reserve faculty and museum staff members. Case Western Reserve
and the museum will administer the grant jointly.
READ more about the Doctoral Program News via the Press Release
The Department of Art History and Art offers opportunities to study art history, to participate in a broad range of studio offerings,
to pursue state teacher certification in art education, and to engage in pre-professional museum training. The Bachelor of Arts
degree is granted in art history and in pre-architecture, and the Bachelor of Science degree in art education. In addition, the
department offers graduate programs leading to the degrees of Master of Arts in art history, in art history and museum studies,
and in art education; and the Doctor of Philosophy in art history.
All art programs are considerably enhanced by close cooperation with and access to the facilities of cultural institutions located in University Circle, in particular The Cleveland Museum of Art and The Cleveland Institute of Art. Further information about the Art Education/Art Studio program is available at their website.
European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500-1800, Internship for Undergraduates. Find out more...
Year-long internship program for undergraduates has begun: CMA Gallery Hosts. Application Deadline is September 10, 2012. Find out more...
Welcome to CWRU. If you are interested in studying art history, you have come to the right place, for your professors are all professionals who have worked in museums as well as in universities, and our classes incorporate the works of art that can be seen in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
"Jackson Pollock's Landmark Work Remains in Pole Position"
by: Miriam Cosic, from: The Australian, August 18, 2012
Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock (1952). Oil, enamel, aluminium paint and glass on canvas. Picture: Gary Ramage Source: The Australian
White over Red on Blue by Tony Tuckson (c. 1971) Synthetic polymer paint on two composition boards Source: Supplied
IN 1973, all hell broke loose when the National Gallery in Canberra spent a then-whopping $1.3 million, a world record for a contemporary artwork, on Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles.
The "Call that art?" brigade went nuts. Labor Party critics saw an example of the profligate incompetence of the new Whitlam government.
Since then, of course, the government, which would have had to sign off on the amount, and the man behind the deal, gallery director James Mollison, have been vindicated. In 2006 a private buyer paid $US140m for a 1948 Pollock, one of his first "drip" paintings, Number 5. For those who care about art, Blue Poles was a central feature of the definitive 1998 retrospective of Pollock's work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
It will be 40 years since its purchase next year, but even back then abstract expressionism was no longer controversial in its homeland. Indeed, not only had it been the subject of crowing by the American art world since the 1950s - with it, the centre of the universe had shifted from Paris to New York, they claimed - but it had been used as an instrument of US soft power during the Cold War: propaganda for the freedoms accorded American artists and scientists, compared with the straitjacket placed by communism on creative thought. And consider that governments don't usually promote the avant-garde: authoritarians don't want to rock the powerboat; democrats don't want to rock the electorate.
Given that the movement had long had the nod from the CIA, it is almost funny to look back on a left-leaning Australian government's battle with the forces of conservatism who attacked its embrace of abstract expressionism.
For those in the know, however, Blue Poles had more going for it than controversy or cash. It was emblematic of an art history era, a powerfully moving artwork, and posed unanswerable questions of its own.
For Anthony White, an art historian at the University of Melbourne who has worked in the US and here, the most fascinating thing about the painting is its anomalous position in the artist's career. "It's neither a completely abstract painting, because it's got these big poles in it, nor does it really represent anything," White says. "It's very unusual for his work. It stands out - and it creates a problem for understanding what he was doing."
The other thing that interests White is Pollock's inflated reputation. Pollock, who was born in 1912, was not "the greatest artist that ever lived" - a phrase White says with verbal quotation marks - and nor did he spring fully armed from America's Wild West. "There was a previous generation of European and Russian artists who really broke the important ground, like Kandinsky," White says, before giving Pollock a lesser, but still lofty, place in the pantheon. "But in the second half of the 20th century, I would definitely put him in that category. I can't think of a more important artist [then], with the exception perhaps of Andy Warhol."
Pollock's influence on succeeding generations was huge, White points out. His homogenous all-over poured-paint works paved the way for the next phase of American art, which was minimalism - "the idea of large structures, which are imposing but don't have any particular detail within them to focus on". He radically inserted the artist's body into art practice, too, White says, which "pretty much accounts for" today's performance art.
'"He didn't pioneer [those things], but nobody did them as consistently and as well as he did. Another thing he is often related to is the idea of the subconscious in art. He certainly wasn't the first to do that: the surrealists were. But he made it such a central aspect of his practice in such an impressive way, and he did that by not being indulgent. He used the subconscious, but he wasn't confessional."
White says that another interesting thing about Blue Poles is its absence from serious Pollock scholarship, which has, of geographical necessity, taken place in the US. He says all the various interpretations of Pollock's work - including the tragic narrative that he had created an astonishing art form, then lost the plot and was a washed-up alcoholic when he died in a car crash in 1956 - ignore what he was still striving for. His reintroduction of figuration into his work is shown as evidence of his artistic collapse. For White, however, those fugitive totemic thrusts in Blue Poles do not constitute such evidence at all.
"It's almost as if he's realised the limitations of his own abstract art, that it might become a form of wallpaper. And that's what happened, that style became corporate lobby decor," he says. "This is an aspect of his work that is missed in the American scholarship, that I'm aware of at least: the degree to which he's trying to find a space between representational art, which he'd always condemned as illustration and banal and bourgeois, and a more radical art practice."
White hopes that a symposium taking place in Canberra next weekend, alongside an exhibition of abstract expressionism at present showing at the NGA, may begin to remedy that gap by bringing together scholars from both sides of the Pacific.
The exhibition is curated from the NGA's own collection, which contains quite a few abstract expressionists a long way from home: not only the famous Pollock and a dozen other works by him, but works by Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Mark Tobey and the influential mentor of many of them, Hans Hofmann. In the exhibition, Australians working on similar artistic problems, including Tony Tuckson and Ian Fairweather, hang alongside them.
Despite being filed under an umbrella label, the work of the abstract expressionists was varied. "They form no movement or school in any accepted sense," wrote critic Clement Greenberg in 1955. "They come from different stylistic directions, and if these converge it is thanks largely to a common vitality and a common ambition."
Consider the wild yet controlled canvases that Pollock created at his peak, roiling currents under a smooth ocean expanse. Consider the ineffable calm of a Rothko canvas: rectangles of saturated colour balanced so perfectly they seem simultaneously simple and profound. Consider de Kooning's busily colourful images, almost Picasso-esque in their shallow application of paint over drawn lines and creepy with suppressed violence. The layers within layers in the works, and the disparities between them, make them endlessly fascinating.
Take those floating Rothkos. "I want to help people look closely at the work and understand how its features do the kind of thing that Rothko thought it was doing," says Michael Leja, a professor of art history at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Reframing Abstract Expressionism: Subjectivity and Painting in the 1940s. He is speaking by phone from Philadelphia before coming to the Canberra conference.
"'We tend to look at them and say, 'Oh what a beautiful picture, aren't the colours gorgeous?' We tend not to feel the anxiety, the pressure, the intensity, the conflict that he thought was so important."
Those dark emotions, emanating from the self, were what united the seemingly eclectic group. The movement was born of dark times. An influx of Europeans fleeing the rise of fascism in Europe - de Kooning, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Piet Mondrian, Hans Namuth, Roberto Matta, Yves Tanguy, Marc Chagall, as well as a number of dealers and collectors - galvanised the art scene in New York.
Some, including Ernst, Masson and Mondrian, would never return. By the time the others did, art world excitement had left for the New World.
Those Europeans had brought several things with them, including early 20th-century expressionism, an originally German invocation of subjective mood best known perhaps through the work of George Grosz and Max Beckmann in Germany, Egon Schiele in Austria, Kandinsky and Chagall in Russia, and Edvard Munch in Norway; surrealism, which needs no description, so thoroughly has it entered everyday language; and psychoanalysis, Freudian and Jungian, which had already penetrated every aspect of life by then.
All these thought systems privileged the subconscious, the irrational, the primitive, demoting the Enlightenment rationalism that was thought to have brought Europe to the cataclysms of the 20th century.
"What real justification for the term 'abstract expressionism' lies in the fact that some of these painters began looking towards German, Russian or Jewish expressionism when they became restive with cubism and with Frenchness in general," Greenberg wrote in that same essay, "but it remains that every one of them started from French art and got his instinct for style from it; and it was from the French, too, that they got their most vivid notion of what major, ambitious art had to feel like."
The result was a kind of retro emotional romanticism fused with responses to the challenges of modernism. For while a deadly playfulness entered the post-World War I European art world - in the ironies of Dadaism, for example, or the theatre of Bertolt Brecht - there wasn't a hint of irony about the abstract expressionists. They were in deadly earnest; indeed some of their lives were tragic. And the nihilism of key members of the movement couldn't have been further away from the military triumphalism of the US after victory in two world wars or the wholesome suburbanism of the post-war baby boom.
ELLEN Landau, a professor of art history at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, who will also be speaking at the Canberra symposium, points out that Europe didn't provide the only influences. In a new book due out later this year, she argues that Mexican art, for example, had a huge influence on artists such as Pollock, Motherwell and Guston. This was true of indigenous art as well. "Native American art became to these artists what African art was for Picasso and Braque," she says, by phone from Cleveland. "It's important to see that the result is a kind of internationalism."
Indeed, it is doubtful the artists saw themselves in nationalist terms. There were too many languages spoken in the New York art world and it seems, even with hindsight, to be more of a milieu created by the war than a movement as such. "How American it was is a matter of dispute and has been ever since it was introduced," says Leja. "The artists themselves said it was not particularly American, that it was international, like mathematics and physics. It was an exploration that had to do with history and philosophy more than nationality."
Nonetheless, the epithets conferred on them by two eminent critics of the day stuck fast. Harold Rosenberg and Clement were powerful presences on the New York scene and their articles defining and articulating abstract expressionism were lastingly influential. "Theirs became the readings one had to come to terms with," Leja says.
Rosenberg focused on action, playing up the mythic and existentialist elements of abstract expressionism. In a 1952 essay, "The American Action Painter", he wrote: "At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyse or 'express' an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event."
Greenberg, by contrast, focused on abstraction, took a historicist position and believed that discussion of subject matter in art - and especially in this art - was pointless. In his 1955 essay, " 'American-Type' Painting", he discussed the formalist elements of the artworks, the pursuit of pictorial flatness and the effects of paint application.
"Rosenberg thought there was something absolutely American about it, that it was like exploring at the frontier, like populating a new land. It was a radical break with what came before it in European modernism, in his interpretation," Leja says.
"For Greenberg, it wasn't that it had American character to it, but that the centre of gravity in working on the problems of modernism had shifted from Europe to the US. Greenberg saw art history as a series of problems thrown up by art, and each generation solved the problems presented by the work of the preceding generation."
Leja thinks the two critics provide partial views that together make up the whole picture. "If you look closely at a Pollock painting, one of the mature drip paintings, say, the best ones have this combination of violent, frenzied, chaotic energy, but also a kind of all-over composition and order. The combination made it possible for Rosenberg to play up the action and the irrationality, the surrealist elements, and Greenberg to play up the order and composition of it. But they're both there, and they're both intentional."
For many of us amateurs, two aspects of abstract expressionism remain the most salient. One is the sheer, gut-tugging immediacy of the works. The abstraction makes it impossible to get distracted by a narrative - look at the hills, see the look on her face, see it's a story from the Christian parables - while the expressionism makes it impossible to ignore the force of emotion.
The other is the larger-than life biographies, the James Dean-style nihilism in many cases that set the artists reaching for the unreachable. This was the legend of the abstract expressionists, what Robert Hughes called "the real stuff of fatal artisthood: from Pollock pissing in the Guggenheim fireplace to Rothko slitting his wrists in the lonely studio, nothing was trivial, everything was infused with suffering and moral determination".
The archival images of Pollock at work are as far away as one can get from the traditional image of the artist in smock and beret standing before an easel. Pollock worked like a labourer over huge canvases spread out on the floor. The exhaustive Kim Evans documentary on Pollock, which interviews many artists, including Krasner - his wife - and critics who knew him, is revelatory. It's posted on YouTube. "Painting on the floor is not unusual," Pollock reminds us in it, "the Orientals did that."
"If you look at those pictures of him in his studio, it's almost like he's in a cave of his own creation," Landau says. "The paintings are up on the walls of the barn, and there are paintings on the floor. It's like several dimensions. Nobody was doing this in Europe. It was part of his American-ness. It's like shooting your wad, not being afraid."
What is very much missing in the official story - and restored in Evans's documentary - is the presence of women in the movement, as professional and emotional helpmeets for the far more famous men but also as important artists in their own right.
Landau, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Krasner and wrote Krasner's catalogue raisonne, will speak in Canberra on Krasner's intimate and aesthetic relationship with Pollock. When the two met, she says, Krasner was by the far the more sophisticated, trained by Hofmann in the formalist schools of cubism and fauvism. Pollock, by contrast, had studied with Thomas Hart Benton, who gave him a good grounding in conventional art - the old masters and American regionalism - which Pollock then had to reject.
Landau relates a story that has Hofmann raising a glass to his students at a party saying, "To art! Only the men have wings." Krasner herself once said that Hofmann thought he was paying her a compliment when he said of a work she had made: "This is so good, you would never know it was done by a woman."
Pollock, however, needed Krasner on every level. "She understood that what he was doing was so radical," Landau says. "There is a famous story - it might have been about Lavender Mist, but nobody is sure - that Pollock called Krasner into the barn and said to her, 'Is this a painting?' Not, 'Is this a good painting?' but 'Is this a painting?'
"Even Clement Greenberg admitted she had a very good eye."
Abstract Expressionism, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until February 24.
Action. Painting. Now. A symposium on abstract expressionism, NGA, August 2012.
Liz Carney's (CWRU BA 2010) first curated exhibition is opening at The Courtauld Gallery on June 26th.
The highlights of the show are Vincent van Gogh's Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear from the Courtauld collection and Francis Bacon's Study for a Portrait of Van Gogh VI from the Arts Council Collection. The thematic ties between the works throughout the show are the cycles of influence among the artists, and that each artist explicitly address his/her artistic identities through portraiture.
More information here: http://www.courtauld.ac.uk/macuratingexhibition/index.shtml
Bradley Bailey (CWRU Ph.D.) curated a show for the new World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis: "Out of the Box: Artists Play Chess." Shannon Price Bailey (CWRU MA) is the museum's VP for Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs. The museum just opened: http://worldchesshof.org/.
See below for a video about the museum.
Spring 2013 Events
“Collecting Prints for the Cleveland Museum of Art.” Distinguished Alumna Lecture given by Jane Glaubinger, Curator of Prints at the CMA, 5:30pm in the Recital Hall at the CMA.
"Luxury, Commerce, and Death in the Villas Buried by Vesuvius at Oplontis." Julius Fund Lecture in Ancient Art, 5:30pm in the Recital Hall at the CMA. The speaker is John R. Clarke, Annie Laurie Howard Regents Professor, Director of the Oplontis Project, University of Texas at Austin.
Undergraduate Art History Symposium Space and the Aesthetic Environment, 12:00pm-6:00pm in the Recital Hall at the CMA.
"Naked at Prayer: Religious Art and Scandal in Fifteenth-century France," Harvey Buchanan Lecture in Art History and the Humanities, 5:30pm in the CMA Recital Hall. The speaker is Thom Kren, Associate Director of Collections at The Getty Museum.
All free and open to the public.
Deadline is January 1st
Mather House, 11201 Euclid Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44106-7110
Tel: (216) 368-4118