City Living: Abstract Expressionism at the AGO

The fourth floor recently took a Friday afternoon field trip to the Art Gallery of Ontario. Our goal? To view the AGO’s newest exhibition – Abstract Expressionism – with minimal crowds. We highly recommend visiting during summer work hours, if you’re lucky enough to have them, and while school is still in session to escape throngs of students (just a few days left to see the art without mobs of people).
While we’re in no way insinuating that we’re art critics, we did want to share some of our experiences. First off, a brief explanation of Abstract Expressionism is needed. Similar to the Surrealists, abstract expressionists emphasized spontaneity and subconscious creation. This style emerged after World War II and was seen as being rebellious and anarchic as it deviated from traditional standards of “art”. 
Now, on to the actual art.
While the pieces by Jackson Pollock (13 of which are on display) are the most recognizable and undoubtedly impressive, we found we were more drawn to the work of his wife, Lee Krasner. Krasner developed a private language of symbols in her pieces but doesn’t explain what they mean – leaving the viewer to impart their own meaning. Krasner’s art, like many female abstract expressionists, tends to be more lyrical or poetic than her male counterparts.

Lee Krasner’s Gaea.

We also loved Helen Frankenthaler’s Jacob’s Ladder. This piece showcased a technique called stain painting. Like Pollock, Frankenthaler laid her canvases flat on the floor instead of upright on an easel. She would then pour thinned paint onto her raw canvas letting it soak in. The resulting image is a bit watercolour-y, a bit Cubist and totally pretty.

Helen Frankenthaler’s Jacob’s Ladder.

Finally, make sure you give yourself enough time to sit down and stare at the Rothko paintings for a bit. There’s a whole lotta theory behind the colour field style that have become the hallmark of his work. Read up on it if you like, but whatever you do, don’t dismiss the works without giving them a second (long-lasting) glance. 

Mark Rothko’s No. 5/No. 22.

Staring at each segment individually changes your perception of the colour next to it. Rothko was about more than just relationships between colours – he wanted to express the “big emotions” through his works. His brightly coloured early works are much more optimistic than his dark and bleak final paintings. 

Our final thoughts? Get ye to the AGO and drink up a wonderful exhibition of colour, emotion and technique. 

Find the Art Gallery of Ontario on Twitter: @agotoronto

Advertisements