Past exhibition

Abstract Expressionism

02.03.2017 - 06.04.2017

In the “age of anxiety” surrounding the Second World War and the years of free jazz and Beat poetry, artists like Pollock, Rothko, and de Kooning broke from accepted conventions to unleash a new confidence in painting. Abstract Expressionism was born from the common experience of artists living in 1940s New York, although they were friends and colleagues, each of them had their own unique style. Unlike what came before with Cubism and Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism did not appear to follow a set formula. This diversity is a celebration of the individual artists’ freedom to express themselves.

Abstract Expressionism meant a watershed moment in the evolution of 20th-century art, yet, remarkably, there has been no major survey in Europe of the movement since 1959. With over 130 paintings, sculptures, and photographs from public and private collections across the world, this ambitious exhibition encompasses masterpieces by the most acclaimed American artists associated with the movement–among them, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Phillip Guston, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Aaron Siskind, David Smith, and Clyfford Still, as well as lesser-known but no less vital artists.

The selection aims to re-evaluate Abstract Expressionism, recognizing that though the subject is often perceived to be unified, in reality it was a highly complex, fluid, and many-sided phenomenon. Likewise, it revises the notion of Abstract Expressionism as based solely in New York City by addressing such figures on the West Coast as Sam Francis, Mark Tobey and Minor White.

Exhibition organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London with the collaboration of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Jackson Pollock
Male and Female, 1942–43
Oil on canvas
186.1 x 124.3 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Mr and Mrs H. Gates Lloyd, 1974
Photo: Philadelphia Museum of Art
© The Pollock-Krasner Foundation VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016

The Exhibition


Arshile Gorky
Water of the Flowery Mill, 1944
Oil on canvas
107.3 x 123.8 cm
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. George A. Hearn Fund, 1956 (56.205.1)
© Estate of Arshile
Gorky/VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016
Photo: © 2016. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

Untitled (Woman in Forest

Willem de Kooning
Untitled (Woman in Forest), ca. 1963–64
Oil on paper, mounted on Masonite
73.7 x 86.4 cm Private collection
© The Willem de Kooning Foundation, New York /VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016


Clyfford Still
PH-950, 1950
Oil on canvas
233.7 x 177.8 cm
Courtesy Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, Colorado
© City and County of Denver, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016


Joan Mitchell
Mandres, 1961–62
Oil on canvas
222 x 200.7 cm
Private collection.
Courtesy McClain Gallery © Estate of Joan Mitchell


Jackson Pollock
Mural, 1943
Oil and casein on canvas
243.2 x 603.2 cm
The University of Iowa Museum of Art. Gift of Peggy Guggenheim, 1959.6
© The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016

Painted and brushed steel

David Smith
Star Cage, 1950
Painted and brushed steel
114 x 130.2 x 65.4 cm
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
The John Rood Sculpture Collection © The Estate of David Smith, VAGA, New York / VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016

Yellow Band

Mark Rothko
Yellow Band, 1956
Oil on canvas
218.8 x 201.9 cm
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Sheldon Art Association, Thomas C. Woods Memorial, N-130.1961
© 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/VEGAP, Bilbao, 2016
Photo: © Sheldon Museum of Art