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The United States of Abstraction, American artists in France, 1946-1964

February to June 2021, Musée d’arts de Nantes; July to October 2021, Musée Fabre de Montpellier

Proposing an alternative reading of the midcentury international art scene, the exhibition features works by artists who rejected the intense nationalism that emerged around the New York School. Well-known figures such as Sam Francis, Leon Golub, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Joan Mitchell, Jules Olitski, Nancy Spero, Mark Tobey, and Jack Youngerman opted to live in France, pursuing training in art schools or working for extended periods in France. Less-recognized artists also gravitated to France, with its reputation as a haven for self-expression and equality. Many took advantage of the newly enacted G.I. Bill to fund their studies abroad. While critics such as Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg focused on the radical aesthetic departures made in forging a specifically American art, the exhibition examines artists drawn to France who were either committed to Cubist legacies extended by Jean Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Constantin Brancusi and others, or to the rise of new movements such as Abstraction Lyrique, Art Informel or Tachisme, and its non-figurative languages. Some, including African American artists Harold Cousins or Beauford Delaney were also attracted to the strong links between art, music, and writing that have long existed in France. The exhibition will feature sculpture, photography, and installation-based work in addition to paintings.

John-Frankin Koening, Untitled, 1951, Musée d'arts de Nantes, © Claire et John Koenig, libellé © Cécile Clos