Surveying Lower Manhattan’s disparate art world in the 1950s and early 1960s, “New York Cool,” at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, features over 80 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints culled from the collection of New York University. While the post-war period witnessed tremendous creative ferment in the New York art scene, the Abstract Expressionists overshadowed everything else that was going on. Fully aware that New York was the new center of the art world, artists were taking risks, experimenting, rejecting accepted styles. By 1965, two new movements—Pop and Minimalism—coalesced out of the ferment of the previous decade. The power and clarity of both have tended to obscure the richness and complexity of the non-AbEx art of the previous generation.
In the Boston Globe, Sebastian Smee reports that “New York Cool” is a breezy but quietly provocative survey. “By emphasizing the sheer eclecticism of the period, the show’s curator, Pepe Karmel, suggests that this standard historical account is inadequate. Pitting canonized names (de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Stella, Frankenthaler, and Guston) against less obvious candidates (Norman Bluhm, James Lee Byars, Louise Nevelson, and Miriam Schapiro), Karmel tries to complicate our idea of what kind of painting mattered in those years. In the process, he reminds us that, in any given period, there’s more than one way for an artist to be cool.” Read more.