Controlled Chaos

‘ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST NEW YORK’ AT MoMA

Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31 (1950) 

From a distance, the surface of the first painting displayed in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit on Abstract Expressionism seems like an intricate and confusing web. On closer inspection, however, an extraordinary clarity is evident, and the beauty and complexity of the poured and dripped paint hits the viewer with full force. Lines of silver, white, and black crisscross each other as tiny fragments of red, yellow, and blue appear throughout, above and below the rhythmic lines; the handprints in purple and red—on the upper right, the lower left—seem to extend the raw canvas beyond the confines of its physical shape. The entire painting, Jackson Pollock’s Number 1A, 1948, is a visual syncopation comparable to an ecstatic Gregorian chant or a solo by John Coltrane. It is one of the many extraordinary pictures in “Abstract Expressionist New York” (on view at MoMA through April 25), an exhibition that extends over three floors and consists of hundreds of paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and photographs. All the work is drawn from the museum’s extraordinary permanent collection.

The term “abstract expressionism” was first used...

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About the Author

Alejandro Anreus teaches art history and Latin American Studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey.