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European & American Art After World War II

The First World War prompted the emergence of a number of new art movements in Europe. During World War II, however, many of the artists involved in those movements moved their base of activities to the U.S. to avoid the ravages of war. These European artists actively interacted with the young generation of American artists, who were thus able to absorb the latest trends in European avant-garde art. After the War, the gravitational center of the art world had effectively shifted from Europe to America. Here, a new type of abstract painting was born, one in which large canvases well over the height of a grown person were covered with fields of color.
Among the leaders of this new movement, along with Mark Rothko and Barnet Newman, was Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). The Pollock work Composition on Green, Black and Tan is painted in the artist’s signature style with white, black, green, tan and silver paint dripped and splattered across the canvas, creating a seemingly infinite number of intersecting lines. Although lines are the central element in Pollock’s paintings, the lines do not depict any specific forms. Neither are these paintings abstract representations of any things existing in the physical world. Pollock’s works were a rejection of the conventional structure of painting until that time and became symbols of the new art emerging in America.

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Jackson Pollock, Composition on Green, Black and Tan, 1951, 50.8 x 139.7cm
© Pollock-Krasner Foundation/ARS, New York/SPDA, Tokyo, 2007

Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) is an artist of the same generation as Pollock. In 1960, Reinhardt painted black paintings on 1.5 meter square canvases, dividing the canvas into thirds vertically and horizontally and painting in the spaces with three shades of black that can barely be differentiated. After that he continued to paint this type of extremely pure and simple painting executed only in black on square canvases until his death, using the same size, the same composition and the same blacks. The work Abstract Painting in the Kawamura collection is one of these paintings, and in its simple form and extremely restricted creative method we can see Reinhardt’s sincere approach to the question that occupied the minds of artists at the time, what a painting is.

Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1960-66, 150.0 x 150.0cm
© Ad Reinhardt/ARS, New York/SPDA, Tokyo, 2007

Entering the 1960s, a new group of artists emerged who rejected abstract painting in favor of painting that took actual figurative images as subjects. As the standard-bearer of the Pop Art movement, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) created screenprint works composed of sequences of images of the type that flooded the mass media, such as the face of Marilyn Monroe and commercial goods like Coca Cola and Campbell’s soup. These works instantly made him the darling of the New York art scene. Of all the artists who have ever taken flowers as a subject for painting, Warhol was surely the first in the history of art to take as his motif "just a flower," simple flowers unrelated to any proper noun that would distinguish them from others. His creative process was bold and decidedly indiscrete; he simply took an image of a hibiscus flower he happened to see in a magazine and, without permission, enlarged it and transferred it to silkscreen to produce prints.

Andy Warhol, Flowers, 1970, 91.5 x 91.5cm
©2008 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/ARS, N.Y./SPDA, Tokyo


  • Wols, Closed Circuit, 1948/49
  • Alexander Calder, Four White Dots, 1976
  • David Smith, Voltri-Bolton IV, 1962
  • Morris Louis, Gimel, 1958
  • Sam Francis, Untitled, 1952
  • Tom Wesselmann, Bedroom Painting #6, 1968
  • Bridget Riley, Aubade, 1975
  • Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1968
  • Robert Ryman, Assistant, 1990
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