NY Art Commentary

Reconfiguring The New York School


Commentary - NewYorkArtWorld.com

Leland Bell Morning
Morning II, by Leland Bell 1981
acrylic on canvas,
74" x 58" inches

In the 1950's, after a decade in which New York produced Abstract Expressionism, a movement emerged: a new figurative painting. It was a difficult time to paint representational subject matter, as most critical attention was focused on abstraction. Nevertheless, the painters included in this exhibition were compelled to nature.

While it is always easier to judge art by categorizing it: abstract, representational, pop, conceptual, or minimal, the most startling realization might be that abstraction and representation are not opposites at all. Perhaps no one understood this better than Hans Hoffman, a seminal figure who taught his students to paint abstractly by drawing from life. He was a teacher to and profound influence on many of the painters in this exhibition. Hoffmann's theories about the tension of colors and forms interacting in a painting applied equally well to representation and abstraction.


These painters had found a way to assert a deeply held personal sense of life observed, while simultaneously utilizing the principles of Abstract Expressionism - maximized scale, painterly handling, and a dynamic sense of movement. The subject matter - whether it is the still life, landscape, or the figure, became the premise for building up paint and moving color forms around the surface of the canvas.

In the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, a moment when art history seemed largely irrelevant, these painters consistently pitted their own work against that of earlier masters. By working figuratively, they were more literally engaged in a conversation with the history of painting. They chose to take an ambitious step forward - doing what our greatest painters have always done - successfully incorporating modern vocabulary into a timeless image.

The intention of this exhibition was not encapsulate history, but rather, to examine legacies that interacted, major and influential figures that emerged, and the straongest examples of their work. In the end, if we put aside intellectual preoccupations, we might judge art by a simpler, more pure test. Great painting moves us; it brings delight; it makes us fall in love. It is in this light that we are obliged to reconfigure the New York School.

by Jennifer Sachs Samet


ARTISTS: Lennart Anderson, Leland Bell, Nell Blaine, Robert De Niro Sr., Jane Freilicher, Paul Georges, Lester Johnson, Alex Katz, Albert Kresch, Louisa Matthiasdottir, Jan Muller, Philip Pearlstein, Fairfield Porter, Paul Resika, Larry Rivers, Albert York.

The Center for Figurative Painting.


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