The spectacular East Wing of the National Gallery opened to the delight and praise of professional artists, critics, and thousands of visitors. The various exhibitions that accompanied the inaugural of the East Wing represented a stimulating mixture of various styles and directions in Western art from the Renaissance through contemporary American painting and sculpture.

Of special interest to me, both as an artist and a Christian, was the American exhibition entitled American Art at Mid-Century: The Subjects of the Artist, in which you encounter a number of major works by artists of the abstract-expressionist movement that flourished in the decade of the 1950s. Inasmuch as art reflects the overall intellectual, emotional, and spiritual milieu in which it is created, these works witness to the character of modern life.

Significantly, the most pronounced feeling of the exhibition was a pervasive sense of shock, suffering, and death. Willem de Kooning’s mighty Women series, with its slashed and leering figures, was joined by Jackson Pollack’s violent “drip” paintings and Robert Motherwell’s impressive, tragic series of Elegies on the Spanish Republic, which was inspired by the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. As the exhibition catalog stated, Motherwell’s works are grounded in “a mood of anguish and a sense of doom.” This assessment could be applied to the exhibition as a whole.

With the exception of the more colorful and joyful abstractions of Arshile Gorky, there was indeed a dark and forboding mood to this exhibition that, for me, was typified in the smaller, more intimate galleries containing the works of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. In Rothko, I confronted a series of brown ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.

Tags:
Issue: