Abstract Expressionism at The Royal Academy


Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 126 (1965-75)

Abstract Expressionism

at The Royal Academy of Arts
Until 2nd January 2017

There is a lot to be said for exhibitions that take an entire artistic movement for their subject rather than a retrospective of a single solitary artist. Instead of a bit of everything one artist produced over their career, which inevitably includes some/many weaker works; in an all-encompassing survey you get the best works from the masters of the movement. This latest from the Royal Academy is such a case in point – Abstract Expressionism is simply the best from the absolute best.

The first room takes a look at the early works of some of the artists. These are the ostensibly ‘interesting’ early works but in this exhibition they are less an illuminating revelation of intriguing early promise than the room that’s keeping you from the amazing rooms where these artists have hit their stride.

Moving on from there you are in for a knockout show. Room after room of astonishing  canvasses often, indeed mostly, on a massive scale. These guys didn’t do small or subtle. And I say ‘guys’ because the Abstract Expressionists were mainly male, mainly white, mainly North American, mainly big city dwellers – not a terribly diverse group really.

img_3786Two works by Clyfford Still on loan from the Clyfford Still Museum, Denver

A huge double room of Jackson Pollock’s paintings is a spectacular sight, the works are at once so familiar with their drips and drags of paint but so fresh and modern, even now after all these years. There’s a stunning room of incredible retina-thwacking colour from Barnett Newman. And a room of full of black and grey works from an assortment of artists which are almost hypnotic.

The central rotunda, familiar to anyone who has been to the RA Summer Exhibition, has been given over to Mark Rothko. And oh, to stand in the middle and turn, slowly, slowly, slowly. Taking in Rothko after Rothko after Rothko. It’s just a joy.

But perhaps the real scene-stealer of the show is Clyfford Still, one of the outsiders of the movement, who lived a rural life in Washington State and Alberta, Canada.  The first-time loan of nine major paintings from Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum makes the dedicated gallery of Still’s work one of the most extraordinary of the whole show. These are masterpieces – powerful and very moving.

What more can I say. What’s there not to love. Just don’t miss it.

Abstract Expressionism is on at The Royal Academy of Arts until 2nd January 2017.


All photographs ©The London Art File

£19 full price (£17 without Gift Aid donation)
Concessions available.
Children under 16 & Friends of the RA go FREE

Opening Hours:
Daily 10am – 6pm
Fridays late until 10pm

The Royal Academy of Arts
Burlington House
London W1J 0BD


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