Jon Schueler, December ’68, (1968), oil on canvas, 71 x 76.5 in (o/c 68-4)

The Bay Area School of Abstract Expressionism was centered around the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in San Francisco and its director, Douglas MacAgy. MacAgy was hired in 1945 in an effort to revitalize and modernize the overly-traditional program. He began by hiring a plethora of young artists, including Richard Diebenkorn, Stanley Hayter, and Clyfford Still, who, while largely inexperienced in teaching, were nevertheless instrumental in educating a wave of second-generation Abstract Expressionists. Like many of the students at the CSFA, Ernest Briggs, Lawrence Calcagno, John Hultberg, and Jon Schueler used their assistance from the GI Bill to enroll in the program shortly after their return from service in World War II. Their shared experiences in the war, along with their closeness in age, allowed the professors and students to form a strong, supportive, and often collaborative atmosphere.

While the CSFA cultivated its own unique school of abstract art, it also exposed its students to New York abstract artists like Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt through summer sessions from 1947 to 1949. Hultberg found Rothko’s guest lectures about the New York art scene convincing and he decided to continue his practice on the East Coast. Briggs, Calcagno, and Schueler followed suit in the early 1950s, a migration catalyzed both by Still’s decision to move to New York and also by the firing of MacAgy. LA-based abstract artists Richards Ruben and Herman Cherry would join the migration by the 1960s.

The exhibition CA->NY: Post-War Migration of Abstract Expressionists attempts to visually demonstrate the exchange of ideas that occurred between both the Bay Area and New York Schools of Abstract Expressionism. While the two schools shared a belief in the active process of painting to express one’s innermost thoughts and feelings, the New York artists were more heavily affected by trends in European art. The Californian artists in this exhibition created a style that was truly American, often rooted in natural forms rather than urban landscapes.

CA->NY: Post-War Migration of Abstract Expressionists continues at Anita Shapolsky Gallery (152 E 65th St., New York, NY 10065) through January 3rd, 2020. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11 am – 6 pm. Saturday by appointment.

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