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Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock, Part 2: Survivals and Fresh Starts

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 second lecture, originally delivered at the National Gallery of Art on April 6, 2003, the distinguished art historian Kirk Varnedoe discusses the reactions of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns to prewar traditions of constructivism, and the initiation of new movements that utilized similar forms but with very dissimilar premises. While raising the question of whether abstract art can have a fixed meaning, he argues that abstraction provides no respite from interpretation or retreat from the contingencies of art history.