During the Second World War, New York welcomed dealers, and art critics from Europe who had crossed the Atlantic, fleeing totalitarian regimes. Years of war had left a large part of Europe in ruins, and within this context, New York City rose up as a new artistic center, from where new trends spread.
In this period Social Realism was still influential. It drew attention to the everyday conditions of the working class and the poor and in American art, was closely related to American Scene Painting and Regionalism. Meanwhile, several movements that had originated in Europe began to draw interest in the USA, especially German Expressionism and Surrealism, thanks in part to the presence in the U.S. of European artists such as André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, André Masson, Roberto Matta, Piet Mondrian, and Yves Tanguy. Exiles Josef Albers and Hans Hofmann also influenced several generations of American painters with their teachings on Abstract Art and the European avant-gardes at different art centers and universities, such as The Art Students League and Yale. Young American artists such as Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko discovered modern European movements first-hand through the exhibitions held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Solomon R. Guggenheim’s Museum of Non-Objective Painting, and some galleries specialized in contemporary art, such as the Betty Parsons Gallery and Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, first shown by gallery owner Curt Valentine during the spring of 1939 and then during the winter at MoMA, marked a turning point with its shocking iconography, color palette, and large-scale format.
Portrait of “The Irascibles” group of American abstract artists: Willem de Kooning; Jackson Pollock; Adolph Gottlieb; Ad Reinhardt; Robert Motherwell; Clyfford Still; James C.Brooks; Hedda Sterne; Jimmy Ernst; Bradley Walker Tomlin; Richard Pousette-Dart; Barnett Newman; Theodoros Stamos; William Baziotes; Mark Rothko, November 1950. Photo: Nina Leen. Getty Images