Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Defining Abstraction: How Postwar New York Became American

This thesis reexamines the art historical narrative of abstraction in 1950s New York City. I argue that this story as written since the 1960s chooses to regard abstraction as bifurcated into styles supposedly native to either Europe or America. Examining the works of two European artists, Nicholas de Staƫl and Pierre Soulages, I demonstrate rather how American curators, gallerists, and critics in the fifties promoted a pan-national abstraction. The affinities they stressed between Paris and New York were recognized but modified by the critical and popular press, whose responses foreshadowed a break between American and European abstractionists discursively created by art history. Drawing on readings of exhibition materials, critical responses, and histories of abstract expressionism, this thesis aims to reintroduce Europeans to this history of abstraction. By doing so, I hope to explain how the history heretofore written on the international community of abstractionists in the fifties became exclusively American.