Skip to Main Content

Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock, Part 1: Why Abstract Art?

Kirk Varnedoe, Institute for Advanced Study. This six-part series examines abstract art over a period of fifty years, beginning with a crucial juncture in modern art in the mid-1950s, and builds a compelling argument for a history and evaluation of late twentieth-century art that challenges the distinctions between abstraction and representation, modernism and postmodernism, minimalism and pop. The accompanying publication, Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock, is available for purchase from the Gallery Shops. In this first lecture, originally delivered at the National Gallery of Art on March 30, 2003, the distinguished art historian Kirk Varnedoe begins with Jackson Pollock at a key moment in the emergence of a new form of abstract art in the mid-1950s. Building on Ernst Gombrich's Mellon Lectures of 1956, Varnedoe begins by asking: Can there be a philosophy of abstract art as compelling as Gombrich's argument for illusionism? What is abstract art good for? And finally, what do we get out of abstract art?