‘Abstract Expressionism’ in London: Art Traveler’s Pilgrimage to the Royal Academy

For the traveler who also claims membership as an art lover, there are cities, museums and even individual works that become important destinations. For some, these hallowed targets could include the Louvre and the Mona Lisa, Florence and Michelangelo’s David, New York’s MOMA with Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Madrid and Picasso’s Guernica or Chicago’s Art Institute and Hopper’s Nighthawks. There are too many to name, but for the art tourist, seeing these words can be as exciting and profound as gazing at the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China.

There is an assemblage of masterpieces currently organized in London at the Royal Academy of Art that art-centric travelers from around the world should make a point of seeing before it ends come the New Year. The current exhibition in the Academy’s main gallery space – Abstract Expressionism – is the finest gathering of that movement’s greatest proponents and masterworks. It serves as the most thorough exploration of that era seen in any museum during the last 50 years — and it could be another 50 before we see anything like it again.

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Gathered via a mix of loans and exchanges, Abstract Expressionism brings together the most prominent works of Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Arshile Gorky, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, de Koonig and other major players. The show explores whether Abstract Expressionism was a defined artistic movement or a longer term evolution of aesthetics that continues to this day. Regardless, the art that started coming out of the U.S. after the World War II would change painting and the understanding of it forever.

The Royal Academy puts its tremendous prestige and network of connections to work to put many of the movement’s most prominent pieces together inside its walls. It could be easily argued that the crown jewels of the show and the history of Abstract Expressionism face themselves on opposing walls of the gallery’s heart. Jackson Pollock’s two highest achievements – Mural (second from the top) and Blue Poles (bottom) — bookend his brief sky rocket career and the golden age of Abstract Expressionism. The former came to London from the University of Iowa, while the latter left fro Australia. They hand facing each other for the first and perhaps final time.

Currently on display, Abstract Expressionism runs at the Royal Academy of Art along Piccadilly through Jan. 2, 2017. After that, the show’s treasures will disperse back out into the world again. For an art lover, the show is a chance to see those Pyramids and that Great Wall in one building.


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