At the Royal Academy

Peter de Bolla

Among the many fascinating questions raised by Abstract Expressionism, on show at the Royal Academy until 2 January, is this: if I renounce depiction, refuse representation and fully embrace abstraction what the hell am I going to paint? The show gives the answers arrived at by 24 painters, not all of them American but all of whom worked in the United States between 1930 (Jackson Pollock’s haunted self-portrait) and 1979 (Joan Mitchell’s joyful Salut Tom, which pulsates with fluid light). One might suppose that the very term ‘abstract expressionism’ – it was coined in 1946 by the art critic Robert Coates writing in the New Yorker about paintings by Hans Hofmann – provides a clue: if one renounces depiction all that is left is expression.

The full text of this exhibition review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in

[*] The Clyfford Still Museum opened in Denver in 2011.