i Studio Floor Used by Jackson Pollock at the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, Springs, New York. Image: Wikimedia Commons, rhododentrites

8 – NEW – The Fear and the Fury: Abstract Expressionism


Course 8 – NEW – Summer School online

Monday 12 – Friday 16 June 2023
Dr Matthew Holman

This course is now full.

You may also be interested in Summer School course 15 – Unruly Britannia: The Brit Art Renaissance of 1945-1970 or the autumn course Making Sense of Abstraction: Roots, Context and Meaning.

Course description

This course explores an unparalleled period in American art and provides an in-depth survey of a movement that is associated with the boundless creative energy of 1950s New York. In the immediate aftermath of WWII, this was “an age of anxiety”, of improvisational jazz, of Beat poetry – and of ‘Abstract Expressionist’ artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko breaking with American self-doubt about its artistic provincialism and unleashing a new confidence in American painting.

The movement subsequently laid itself open to waves of criticism with its earnestness, high-mindedness and machismo, but more recently new ways of contextualising Abstract Expressionism have emerged. They range from the reappraisal of the extraordinary contribution by women artists to Abstract Expressionism to an understanding of its gestural painting in the context of related innovations in artistic centres as far apart as Cologne, Copenhagen and Caracas. Exploring these new approaches along with recently discovered archival material, our course aims to arrive at a fresh perspective on this important movement in modern American art. We shall look closely at the careers of individual artists, from the Armenian refugee Arshile Gorky to the Parisian émigré Joan Mitchell, and contextualise key painters and artworks in thematic lectures that examine Abstract Expressionism in relation to contemporary philosophy, art criticism, exhibition history, and the intrigue of Cold War politics.

Lecturer's biography

Dr Matthew James Holman is the Terra Foundation for American Art Postdoctoral Fellow at The Courtauld. He joins us from University College London, where he was an Associate Lecturer and where he completed his PhD on the poet Frank O’Hara and global Abstract Expressionism in 2020. A specialist in American modernism, Matthew has held research fellowships at Yale University, The Smithsonian Institution, and spent a year at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin under a Leverhulme Trust Studentship. He has taught modern literature and art history at The Slade School of Fine Art, Queen Mary University of London, and The Guildhall School of Music and Drama.