The beginning of the 20th century was a tumultuous time for much of the world, but like many crisis periods it opened new avenues for communication, connection and creativity. Through this a truly global art community was beginning to emerge. This was helped in no small part by better access to points of cultural exchange through advancements in communication, global relations and cheaper, more readily available options for international travel.
The influence from European traditionalist and avant-garde artists helped form the beginnings of what would become contemporary American art. After a spell of early growth and stabilisation, small, localised scenes such as the Harlem Renaissance gained prominence alongside movements connected to specific art schools, for instance Hudson River and The Aschan School. It was in the post-war period, however, where the most significant movements began to emerge.
Parallel to other exports of a growing economic and cultural power, these new forms created dialogues with other centres of the global art community, confirming a place for new American art on the world map. Established expressionist technique was updated through a number of innovative procedures, raising the profile of New York in particular as a hotbed of exciting new work. Leaving a trail of controversial linkages to the CIA and propaganda behind it, abstract expressionism has come to define the core of modern art in the US. Perhaps taking cues from the refinement of contemporary architecture or the reduced approach of musicians and new media artists of the 1960s, minimalism’s new visual language created space for forward thinking geometric investigations.
American artists drew back again into history to revive and reappropriate previous movements, bringing about a new era for social realism, surrealist and tonal painting. In the process, and mirroring a growing sense of internationalism, bonds between genre and place collapsed in the formative stages of a now matured creative dissolution. Artists working today may find themselves easily transcending the painting histories and traditions of their surroundings.
This exhibition examines the latest stage of this exchange of influence between emerging American artists, art history and the rest of the world. It explores and shares their diverse experiences and artistic intentions in a political era defined by dramatic changes in governance, freshly scrutinised civil relations and an increasingly mobilised voice in marginalised communities. It aims to illustrate from a multitude of perspectives life in a country with vast cultural influences, brought about by a history of human movement and a cosmopolitan present. The diversity of the country is plain to see, and artists can play a role in bridging difficult histories with unified futures worthy of celebration.
It also recognises the significant prominence of the US in technological innovation, and how internet based communications have embedded themselves within American society since the millennials absorbed the first social media platforms. Where artists are to consider what else art has left to do, these developments opened a door to unpredictable new realms and unimaginable creative strategies.
The exhibition presents the latest in a diverse range of painting styles American artists have come to adopt, how artists in the United States are responding via their work to locations, environments and experiences, and the worlds created in the imagination. When one is asked to consider what American art is today, it’s both a desire and a refusal to locate a simple answer.