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The New York School (synonymous with abstract expressionist painting) was an informal group of American poets, painters, dancers, and musicians active in the 1950s, 1960s in New York City. The poets, painters, composers, dancers, and musicians often drew inspiration from Surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular action painting, abstract expressionism, Jazz, improvisational theater, experimental music, and the interaction of friends in the New York City art world's vanguard circle.
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Concerning the New York School poets, critics argued that their work was a reaction to the Confessionalist movement in Contemporary Poetry. Their poetic subject matter was often light, violent, or observational, while their writing style was often described as cosmopolitan and world-traveled. The poets often wrote in an immediate and spontaneous manner reminiscent of stream of consciousness writing, often using vivid imagery. They drew on inspiration from Surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular the action painting of their friends in the New York City art world circle like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
Poets most often associated with the New York School are John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest, Ted Berrigan, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Kenward Elmslie, Ron Padgett, Lewis Warsh, and Joseph Ceravolo.
O'Hara was at the center of the group before his death in 1966. Because of his numerous friendships and post as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, he provided connections between the poets and painters like Jane Freilicher, Fairfield Porter and Larry Rivers (also his lover). There were many joint works and collaborations: Rivers inspired a play by Koch, Koch and Ashbery together wrote the poem "A Postcard to Popeye", Ashbery and Schuyler wrote the novel A Nest of Ninnies, and Schuyler collaborated on an ode with O'Hara, whose portrait was painted by Rivers.
Koch, O'Hara, Schuyler and Ashbery were quite different as poets, but they admired each other and had much in common personally:
All four were inspired by French Surrealists like Raymond Roussel, Pierre Reverdy and Guillaume Apollinaire. David Lehman, in his book on the New York poets, wrote, "They favored wit, humor and the advanced irony of the blague (that is, the insolent prank or jest) in ways more suggestive of Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg than of the New York School abstract expressionist painters after whom they were named."
There are also commonalities between the New York School and the members of the beat generation poets also active in 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s New York City, including Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Diane di Prima, Diane Wakoski, Anne Waldman, Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders, Norris Embry, and several others. Many of the poets, including Koch, Ashberry, Ginsberg, and Kerouac attended Columbia University.
The term also refers to a circle of composers in the 1950s which included John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown and Christian Wolff. Their music paralleled the music and events of the Fluxus group, and drew its name from the Abstract Expressionist painters above. In the 1960s the work of the avant-garde Minimalist composers La Monte Young, Philip Glass, Tony Conrad, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley became prominent in the New York art world.
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During the 1960s the Judson Dance Theater located at the Judson Memorial Church, New York City, revolutionized Modern dance. Combining in new ways the idea of Performance art, radical and new Choreography, sound from avant-garde composers, and dancers in collaboration with several New York School Visual artists. The group of artists that formed Judson Dance Theater are considered the founders of Postmodern dance. The theater grew out of a dance composition class taught by Robert Dunn, a musician who had studied with John Cage. The artists involved with Judson Dance Theater were avant-garde experimenatalists who rejected the confines of ballet technique, vocabulary and theory.
The first Judson concert took place on July 6, 1962, with dance works presented by Steve Paxton, Freddie Herko, David Gordon, Alex and Deborah Hay, Yvonne Rainer, Elaine Summers, William Davis, and Ruth Emerson. Seminal dance artists that were a part of the Judson Dance Theater include: David Gordon, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Deborah Hay, Elaine Summers, Sally Gross, Aileen Passloff, and Meredith Monk. The years 1962 to 1964 are considered the golden age of the Judson Dance Theater.
During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s New York School artists collaborated with several other choreographer / dancers including: Simone Forti, Anna Halprin, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, and Paul Taylor.
The new Bebop and cool jazz musicians in the 1940s and 1950s featuring Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal and Gerry Mulligan coincided with the New York School and Abstract expressionism. Later new jazz musicians such as Archie Shepp, Ornette Coleman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane coincided with Hard-edge painting, Minimalism, Color Field, Lyrical Abstraction, and Pop art of the 1960s.
The New York School which represented the New York abstract expressionists of the 1950s was documented through a series of artists' committee invitational exhibitions commencing with the 9th Street Art Exhibition in 1951 and followed by consecutive exhibitions at the Stable Gallery, NYC: Second Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, 1953; Third Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, 1954; Fourth Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, 1955; Fifth Annual Exhibitions of Painting and Sculpture, 1956 and Sixth New York Artists’ Annual Exhibition, 1957.
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The following artists appeared in the New York Painting and Sculpture Annuals, 1951–1957.
For African American artists a barrier to success in the post-War era was the prevailing blight of racism and segregation. This resulted in exclusion of artists of African-American origin from major exhibitions and critical attentions. The best evidence of this is the absence of African-American artists in the New York School Annuals between 1951 and 1957. These annual exhibitions represented a total of 265 New York School artists, none of whom were African-American.
Marilyn Stokstad, the British art historian, wrote: ’’When the United States emerged from World War II as the most powerful nation in the world, its new stature was soon reflected in the arts. American artists and architects-especially those living in New York City-assumed the leadership in artistic innovation that by the late 1950s had been acknowledged across the Atlantic Ocean, even in Paris. Critics, curators and art historians, trying to follow art’s ‘mainstream,’ now focused on New York as the new center of modernism.’’
The post-World War II era highly benefited some of the artists who were early on recognized by the Art critics of the post World War II era. According to Irving Sandler, ‘’From 1947 to 1951, more than a dozen Abstract Expressionists achieved ‘breakthroughs’ to independent styles. Younger artists who entered their circle in the early fifties-the early wave of the second generation were also acclaimed, but with a few exceptions, their reputation had gone into decline by the end of the fifties.’’ (Sandler verified the arbitrary notion of “generation:” It refers to a group of artists close in age who live in the same neighborhood at the same time, and to a greater or lesser degree, know each other and partake of a similar sensibility, a shared outlook and aesthetic.)
Some of the New York artists having no galleries or means to get ahead took advantage of the GI Bill and left for Europe to later return with acclaim. Among them were Norman Bluhm and Sam Francis. The majority of artists from all across the US arrived in New York City to seek recognition. By the end of the decade the list of artists associated with the New York School had greatly increased. (see: Complete List of Artists' Participation in the New York Painting and Sculpture Annuals, 1951–1957)
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1957 represented the beginning of Pop Art and the following movements and/or trends. Painters, sculptors and printmakers associated with Abstract expressionism, Action painting, Fluxus, Color field painting, Hard-edge painting, Pop art, Minimal Art, Lyrical Abstraction, and other movements associated with New York City. During the 1950s through the early 1960s the artists often congregated at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village and during the mid-1960s through the early 1970s at Max's Kansas City on Park Avenue South between 17th and 18th Streets.
The list of such artists would include the following: