Top New Art Books: “The Irascibles: Painters Against The Museum – New York, 1950” (July 2020)

The first documentation of the legendary 1950 showdown between 18 leading abstract expressionists and the Metropolitan Museum of Art

In 1950, 18 American abstract painters signed an open letter addressed to the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to express their intense disapproval of the museum’s contemporaneous exhibit American Painting Today: 1950. The artists were William Baziotes, James Brooks, Fritz Bultman, Jimmy Ernst, Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Weldon Kees, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Richard Pousette-Dart, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Theodoros Stamos, Hedda Sterne, Clyfford Still and Bradley Walker Tomlin.

This artistic coalition, which included many members of the New York School and is now considered a watershed movement in mid-20th-century American art history, challenged the museum’s policies for their narrow understanding of what made certain art worth exhibiting. Though they resisted being labeled as a collective, media coverage of the museum boycott, which included a now-famous group portrait in Life magazine taken by photographer Nina Leen, ultimately contributed to the success of the 18 “irascibles” in what became known as the abstract expressionist movement.

This publication collects 18 paintings by the artists, images from Leen’s photoshoot and extensive documentation of the letter-writing process with relevant catalogs and magazines. Featuring more than 230 illustrations alongside original essays by several art historians and curators that examine the complex history of the New York School, this volume serves as a time capsule of the exciting period of early abstract expressionism in the United States.

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