What Characteristic Marked American Mainstream Society in the 1950s

What Characteristic Marked American Mainstream Society in the 1950s

The story of 1950s art begins at the end of the Second World War, because it was such a rupture to the body of the world, that the
post-war art
beginnings extend from mid 1940s to the next decade. Slowly, as the world start recovering from the war trauma, new art movements used to develop worldwide. Major
influences on the 1950s art
were made by 1920s
avant-garde
movements,
modernism,
surrealism
and
abstract painting.

There are only few art styles continued even throughout the period of the war, and those were withheld by individual practices of influential artists from pre-war era such as
Pablo Picasso,
Salvador Dali,
Max Ernst,
Marcel Duchamp. For many artists, World Wars of 20th century brought the migration, and significant authors of 1950s decade were escaping Nazism in Europe by settling in the United States, which made New York the world’s capital of art.

Check out more artworks from the 1950s available on our Marketplace!



Hans Hartung – T 1955-38, 1955 – Image courtesy of Hans Hertung

Cultural Panorama of 1950s Art

While the world was recovering from the war, two opponents derived from the ambivalent Allies of WW2 – Eastern, composed of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and Western bloc United States, its NATO allies and others. Basically world was separated between the supporters of one or another competitive unions. A big distinction was in their concepts of prosperity and politics, since
Eastern bloc
continued implementingrevolutionary propaganda forming communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Asia, theWestern bloc
reached the state of developed capitalism, insisting on free market, commercial design, popularprint and advertising. In 1950s, Soviet Union and United States entered the nuclear and space race, the decolonization of the Third World countries was blooming, and the Great Two competed for ideological predominance in those newly formed countries.
As the culture is a mighty tool for imprinting political ideology and/or economical agenda, the 1950s art was one of the battlefields for the ultimate and long-lasting victory of
communism or capitalism
as the proposals for the
New World Order. From one hand, Soviet Union and other communist regimes of the East showed lack of understanding for the art practices of Modernism, interpreting non-representative forms of art as incomprehensible for the proletariat, while United States’ government through funding and organization directly supported rise of abstract art to show progressive and liberating character of capitalist society. In forthcoming years, it turned out that both of them were wrong, as the developed movements in the 1960s and 1970s heavily criticized the 1950s art world.

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The 50s art can now be seen as retro prints and vintage wall poster

Political propaganda: Atomic War, 1950s; America under Socialism, 1950s

Abstract Expressionism as Synonym for 1950s Art

As complex art movement in late 1940s, abstract expressionism was logical continuation of the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstraction and Modernist styles. During and after the war, United States and especially
New York
became the gathering place of European artists, dealers and collectors escaping Nazi regimes. At the time, New York hosted Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, Marcel Duchamp, André Masson, André Breton, Marc Chagall and Piet Mondrian and became art metropolis. Thus, American Abstract expressionism brought together influences of
Surrealism,
Cubism,
Fauvism, and
early Modernismas well as notable
Bauhaus influences. Even though Abstract Expressionism movement was mainstream, it could be roughly divided between two major painting sub genres – Action Painting and Color Field Painting.

Browse popular and well known American artwork of the 1950s artists

Franz Kline – Chief, 1950 – Image via wikiart.org

Action Painting

Action Paining is painting movement widespread in New York art scene from late 1940s to mid 1960s and is often seen as synonym of the abstract expressionism. The movement shifted the focus of the painting objects (finished artworks) to the very painting process and act of the creation. While
Jackson Pollock
insisted on physical act of painting, approaching the concept of Breton’s automatic writing,
Willem de Kooning
created the series of violated figurative paintings and
Franz Kline
focused on esthetic of the actual brush strokes in his calligraphic abstraction.

Willem De Kooning was a Dutch American artist whose work contributed a lot to the 1950s art

Willem De Kooning – Ganesvoort Steet, 1949, detail

Color Field Painting

Another style of abstract art, born in New York scene of 1950s was
Color Field painting, which is largely influenced by
European Modernism
and its sublime geometric abstraction. As the name suggests, color was the main subject of the paintings, liberated from any objective context or the meaning in favor of expression of the sublime human emotions. One of the most significant authors within the movement was
Mark Rothko
who even denied his connection to abstract art, insisting on mystic spirituality of his canvases, while
Clifford Stills
landscapes contained primordial reminiscence on nature or human history.
Robert Motherwell
painted great open fields of colors, composited with lines and shapes and
Barnett Newman
tried to reflect Jewish history and tradition trough the language of pure colors.

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Mark Rothko was an American artist known for his color field paintings popular within the 1950s art

Mark Rothko – Orange and Yellow, 1956

Other Significant Movements of the 50s Art Scene

There are many art movements had started in the 1950s and reached their peak in decades after. Notably, the most important movement was abstract expressionism, but it influenced the many art practices worldwide, like Modern sculpture, Pop Art, Neo-dada, Art Informel, and Lyrical Abstraction. All these styles were deeply rooted in the fact that Abstract Expressionism was massively present within the 1950s art scene and art education, which was, as we said politically motivated as contrapunkt to the
Soviet realism.

Apart from the abstract expresionalism flourishing in the 1950s art in the West, socialist realism was significant in the Soviet Union and their 1950s artists

Dmitry Zhilinsky – Bathing soldiers (The builders of a bridge), 1959

Modern Sculpture in 1950s

Sculptors in the 1950s start experimenting with different materials and large scale projects which consequently led to the uprising of landscape art in 1970s. New modernist language included surrealist visions, anthropomorphic forms and impressive material combinations and extensive use of steel and ready-made in sculpture. The new language of abstraction was embraced by John Chamberlain, Henry Moore, David Smith, Alexander Calder, Jean Tinguely, Isamu Noguchi, Louise Bourgeois and Louise Nevelson.

1950s art was also interesting in the fields of sculpture

David Smith – Australia, 1951

Early pop art of 1950s decade

During the 1950s in Britain, there was early pop art movement lead by
Eduardo Paolozzi
and
Richard Hamilton
but it quickly spread to american culture in work of
Robert Rauschenberg
and
Jasper Johns. Beginnings of the pop art were related to the irony shown to the fast growing society, life, space and design images inevitably changed by consumerism, as well as to the critique of the elitist world of high culture and abstraction in art. First phase of the pop art it is characterized with artworks from found and used objects, in the best tradition of ready-made, as well as the rise of cheep techniques such as collecting, collage, design or silkscreen print and other means of mechanical reproduction.

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The 50s art was marked with early pop art and the 1950s artists who were starting to think about consumerism

Richard Hamilton – Just What Was It that made Yesterday’s Homes so Different so Appealing (detail) – Image via wikiart.org

Lyrical Abstraction and Art Informel

While the title of the cultural capital of the world was moved to New York, in Paris devastated by war destruction, the art movements were formed as a reaction to the former dominant art practices – Surrealism, Cubism and Geometric Abstraction. At the same time, Abstraction Lyrique was the popular competitive practice to Abstract Expressionism in the US and the poetic answer to the world of “cold abstraction” of Kandinsky. Tachisme (French word tache could be interpreted as stain) and Art Informel are the almost synonyms to the Lyrical Abstraction since the stain painting, non-formal art and use of calligraphy were known within the Paris School 1950s explorations in painting media, which widely influenced European
COBRA
and Japanese
Gutai group, as well as authors in United States.

Serge Poliakoff's 1950s art work could be seen in New York exhibition

Serge Poliakoff – Bleu Roufe, 1951, detail

1950s Art – War on Abstraction

The different standpoints between East and West in 1950s widely influenced the art scene – in Eastern bloc
socialist realism
provoked politically engaged art or continue to develop
in North Korea
and in Western world blossomed movements with an answer to the rise of capitalism. We might say that in 1950s one could draw a line between East and West, exclusively based on the attitude towards abstract art. This strict division in treatment of abstraction was ignition spark for birth of
Pop Art,
New Figurative Art
as well as
Situationist Internationale
and
Conceptual Art
and their neighboring practices in
1960s
and
1970s, since new art movements reacted on strong governmental influence on art during fifties, equally on East and West.

Featured images: Jasper Johns – Three Flags, 1958 via jasper-johns.org; Jackson Pollock – Convergence, 1952, detail via wikiart; Eduardo Paolozzi – Real Gold via wikiart, 1949;

What Characteristic Marked American Mainstream Society in the 1950s

Sumber: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/1950s-art

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