There is a particular thrill in catching an artist in one of those rare moments when they are radically altering the premise of their own work and walking out on a limb, before the direction’s meanings and effects have become codified within their own practice.
We know how a handful of painters — Pollock, de Kooning, and company — wrested modernism from the Old World to create a new kind of art, one unmediated, enveloping, and completely frank in its making. Less well-known is the story of how another group of painters, a half-generation later, pursued with equal ardor but far less acclaim a different goal: figuration inflected by abstraction.
The National Academy Museum’s Annual Exhibition, often seen as the Whitney Biennial’s dowdy cousin, still privileges the rich traditions that bigger museums, galleries, and curators often overlook when they focus on younger, sexier media like video, installation, and social sculpture. This year, due to the economic downturn, the 185th NAM Annual includes less art than usual, but has continued to choose outstanding artists deeply engaged in traditional studio practice.