The University of Arizona Museum of Art and Archive of Visual Arts

American Innovations: The New Art

Richard Diebenkorn  Berkeley #19, 1954

October 1, 2009 – August 27, 2010

There is no question that the Second World War was the most dramatic instrument of social change of the 20th century. This change was particularly profound for American soldiers and the artists among them returning from the marvels and widespread destruction in Europe and in the Pacific. The lyrics of a popular song of the day, How you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? summarized the restlessness of spirit and the determination of many to be more than they had been before the war. The overwhelming realization that the world would never be the same was felt most strongly, perhaps, by American artists and stimulated a sense that art itself had to find new form and meaning.

On the home front, the America our soldiers returned to had changed as well. The wives, sweethearts, and mothers they left behind were now the workforce of a nation. Women in general and women artists in particular were liberated, eager to take their rightful place side by side with men. Although fair consideration would take decades, they were confident and bold, anxious to express themselves in an environment ripe for innovation.

These artists of the post-war era set the tone for the rest of the century, questioning the very essence of aesthetic and cultural conventions. They rejected realism in particular and challenged the function of art and artists in modern society. They invented a New Art — complex expressions of vitality and new ideas. Led by the Abstract Expressionists for a generation, the art world shed its skin repeatedly for fifty years, ushering in an era of plurality that exists into the 21st century.

Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Op Art, Color Field, Minimal Art, Conceptual Art, New Realism, Neo Expressionism, and other movements exploded onto the scene at a breathtaking pace.

This exhibition, from the University of Arizona Museum of Art’s permanent collections, examines aspects of this New Art. It includes many stylistic examples and showcases the extraordinary vitality of the art of the second half of the 20th Century.

Charles Guerin, Former Director