A Definitive American Style
The artwork exhibited in Advancing American Art was controversial because it was American avant-garde. Prior to this era, there was no style of visual art which had its definitive origin in the U.S. To proponents, American modern art was cutting edge and visually stunning. Critics, however, detested it because it was unlike anything they had seen—non-representational and did not reflect any traditional style.
A host of styles emerged in the first half of the twentieth century but one came to be the ultimate representation of America and American art. This style was Abstract Expressionism which can be defined as gestural or non-figurative but also as a state of mind. It ranges from the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock to the floating shapes of Mark Rothko. One advocate declared it “free enterprise painting.” Because it was perceived to be so American, it was also declared fundamentally anticommunist. It was the perfect style for proponents to champion and critics to target.
Abstract Expressionism was not the only style art diplomacy advocates saw as American and they pushed works by a host of artists with other styles. The following selection of artwork is not exhaustive, but offers a sample and demonstrates the spectrum of “American” art from the early to mid-twentieth century.