PRINT September 1965

The Second Generation

TOWARD THE END OF THE FIFTIES, talk that the de Kooning style had hardened into a transmissible manner was an issue of such importance that Art News ran a two-part symposium in 1959 on the subject “Is There a New Academy?” Those who offered opinions included veteran abstractionists John Ferren, George McNeil and Jack Tworkov, figure painter Alex Katz, and second-generation New York School painters Milton Resnick, Ray Parker, and Friedel Dzubas. Not surprisingly, since painters don’t like to be pinned down, there were few direct answers. The most out and out negative response came from Frieden Dzubas, who asked: “Why is it that after an evening of openings on Tenth Street, I come away feeling exhausted from the spectacle of boredom and the seemingly endless repetition of safe sameness? . . . There is an atmosphere of complacent kaffee-klatsch, one can find all the tricks of the current trade—the dragging of the brush, the minor accidents (within reason), the seeming carelessness and violence ever so cautiously worked up.”

Dzubas’ statement might be taken as indicative of a general uneasiness among painters. The possibility that the emotional content of Abstract Expressionism could be staged or simulated as easily as feit was bothering some others, too. Statements in It Is, the magazine published briefly by sculptor Philip Pavia also seem to hint at a certain edginess with regard to what, at the time, was the official mystique—that good art was necessarily art with “crisis content.” This “crisis content,” apparently was the “angst” or expressionist element in Abstract Expressionism. At the moment that the small cooperative galleries on Tenth Street were the center of activity and interest in New York, it was a crucial issue. And it is as a reaction to such an issue that one may take Paul Brach’s statement in It Is (no. 3, 1959) on “non-freedom,” which he defines as the necessity “to make icons of our compulsions, to abolish choice and chance—to forbid autobiography and confession, to reject action and find precision.”

I doubt that anyone who did not observe the method-acting atmosphere of hysterical posturing and pretentious engagement which characterized the twilight of Abstract Expressionism as it was practiced by the epigoni of Tenth Street can realize how extreme Brach’s position seemed. More typical of the ambience and mood of the late fifties was Milton Resnick’s statement (Art News, Sept., 1959): “I rush madly away from danger because my imagination is practically 100 per cent efficient. The dream of art coming from heaven is nearly over. Can waking up on Tenth Street frighten me? I jump so quickly I hardly know.”

I have chosen to illustrate what was in general the stance and style of thinking of de Kooning’s young admirers with Resnick’s words not in order to embarrass a serious artist, but merely because it is quite characteristic of the apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo printed and spouted at the time.

THE SOURCE OF THIS NOTION that the artist was a kind of existential matador, and the gesture he recorded the ultimate existential “act,” was, of course, Harold Rosenberg’s essay “The American Action Painters,” (Art News, December, 1952). In this historic, if histrionic, essay, Rosenberg first used the terminology made fashionable in Paris by Camus and Sartre in the forties to talk about American painting as if “what was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” Further, he went on to say that the “act-painting is of the same metaphysical substance as the artist’s existence. The new painting has broken down every distinction between art and life.”1

That Rosenberg’s essay was influential in providing an esthetic rationale for young painters is an understatement. The worst excesses of self-indulgence and inept art that resulted from the elevation of mindless “action” over self-conscious and critical deliberation were encouraged by such an approach.2

Rosenberg’s essay was crucial in much the same way (in that it provided a useable after-the-fact formula and esthetic for what had essentially been an empirical approach) as was the celebrated essay on Cubism by Glees and Metzinger. But now, instead of geometry, what was to mark valid art was the infinitely more ineffable “crisis content.”

However, the adoption, as an esthetic rationale, of Rosenberg’s notions that the canvas was an arena in which the “act” of painting was executed, an act that is “inseparable from the biography of the artist” certainly contributed to the transformation of de Kooning’s and Kline’s style into a slickly mannered academicism in the hands of some younger painters. The silliness of the attitudinizing that went along with the making of these works (which were academic in the sense that they were based on received ideas) is also traceable to Rosenberg. His treatment of the artist as exemplary existential hera, sub specie the embattled, isolated matador engaged in the critical life-against-death struggle in the “arena” of his canvas provided a hairy-chested prototype who corresponds not only with descriptions in Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, but even more exactly with some of Norman Mailer’s recent super-heroes who are constantly defining themselves in a variety of (mainly sexual) crisis moments. Both Rosenberg’s and Mailer’s artist-heroes were easily popularized, representing, in the first place, adulterated versions of Camus’, Sartre’s and Malraux’s heroes. Given that it was always five in the afternoon below Fourteenth Street anyway, it was hardly surprising that a swaggering, romantic, tough-talking “hombre,” tensed and ready for the crisis of the arena, came to be a common art-world stereotype.

I have spent so much time describing the effect of Rosenberg’s essay on the artistic milieu of the late fifties because it strikes me as difficult now to remember how much art was produced under its influence. Specifically, Rosenberg’s formulation of an attitude toward painting, which was based on his admiration of great artists, served those who were unable to understand what it was that constituted the greatness as a way of imitating a surface look. Because it drew attention to American art, Rosenberg’s writing was a successful propaganda weapon in the struggle of American artists to win international recognition. So, in criticizing its bad effects I do not mean to minimize in any way Rosenberg’s role as an articulate spokesman and his importance in winning public recognition for native art. Not only the retarded taste of the Museum of Modern Art, which then, as now, set taste for the nation, but the defection of the intellectual community, which by and large refused to acknowledge the value of the art being created on its doorstep, were obstacles in the way of even the belated acceptance of post-war American art.

Like art discourse at the Club, art criticism of the fifties hit a new low. Yet, Rosenberg’s “action criticism” became a model for critics who were as much in need of a style of writing as de Kooning’s young imitators were in need of a pictorial style. Though Rosenberg’s criticism remains eminently ????readable, his advice to critics encouraged excesses so egregious that they must be read to be believed. He counseled that “since the painter has become an actor, the spectator has to think in a vocabulary of action: its inception, duration, direction—psychic state, concentration and relaxation of the will, passivity, alert waiting. He must become a connoisseur of the gradations between the automatic, the spontaneous, the evoked.” But, as the pages of Art News, unfortunately the only magazine to be much interested in important domestic art at the time, will testify, no such connoisseurs emerged. But a great deal of noise was made nevertheless. In this context, one of the more amusing period pieces is Philip Pavia’s diagram, published in It Is, of the critical style of Thomas B. Hess, the editor of Art News, which served as a model for so many art reviewers during the fifties.

Now, having tried to define the mood and milieu in which an academic abstraction was formulated to fit the specifications of a certain kind of preferred “look,” I would like to flip the coin to its brighter side and focus on more progressive developments in and out of New York being made during the fifties by painters only now entering their full maturity. It will be my contention that although one cannot underestimate the contribution of first-generation painters such as Pollock and Newman to their art, the real transformation of American art was effected by these painters, most of whom are now roughly about forty, in their critical reaction to the contradictions implicit in Abstract Expressionism, and in their rejection of the rhetoric by means of which these contradictions were glossed over. Obviously, I will be talking about a number of artists not normally thought of as “second generation.”

One might begin to describe a reaction to and against Abstract Expressionism with two statements published in It Is in 1958, both of which appear to contradict what I’ve been defining as the dominant mood in New York in the late fifties. Ray Parker, though of the age of the “second generation,” developed a restrained, simplified composition dependent mainly on large, clearly articulated color areas for its expressiveness at a time when to do so was to go against the dominant taste. Of his method of “direct painting” he said, “The whole painting may be in error, never a part. Present feelings (hopefulness, anxiety, resoluteness, discouragement, elation) are negligible because none greatly influence the content of the painting. Emotions from life outside are distrusted, and irrelevant.” This hardly sounds earth-shaking now, but such a questioning of the communicability of emotional or psychological states, or of the appropriateness of considering them the proper content of art was indicative, at the time, of dissension within the ranks. In the same issue, Robert Goodnough made some rather prophetic remarks: “There seems to be a development from the tactile (in which things are represented to look almost as though one could reach out and touch them) to a more purely visual expression, where one experiences the painting in itself unrelated to outside experiences.” (Independence such as that shown by the painters quoted was relatively rare on the part of second-generation artists, though older painters such as John Ferren and Jack Tworkov had managed to maintain positions from which they made statements that stand out even now for their thoughtfulness, balance, and lack of hysteria.)

Thus, by 1957, when the Jewish Museum presented an exhibition of twenty-three young painters called “Artists of the New York School, Second Generation,” a climate of discontent and a certain impatience with the official platitudes had infiltrated the art world.3 Although the show will probably be remembered mainly as the first time Jasper Johns exhibited a painting in New York (the 1955 Target in Green), it was interesting for a number of other reasons as well. In retrospect, for example, the works may be seen as illustrations of the main problems plaguing Abstract Expressionism-the internal contradictions it could not resolve and under which it ultimately collapsed as a style. The attempts of this second generation to come to terms with the problems implicit in the works of the de Kooning-Pollock-Kline generation mark a fascinating and crucial moment in the development of American art, and one which has been insufficiently focused on or studied, because its meaning has been buried under the torrent of art rhetoric which accompanied the demise of Abstract Expressionism. I will argue here that the sequence of collapses one witnessed among some members of the second generation were the inevitable outcome of any attempt to reconcile the contradictions inherent in Abstract Expressionism, whereas the transformations effected by others decided the fate of American art in the sixties.


MOST OF THE ARTISTS represented at the Jewish Museum as well as a number of those considered in B. H. Friedman’s 1959 “School of New York, Some Younger Painters” (Frankenthaler, Goodnough, Hartigan, Leslie, Mitchell, Parker, Rauschenberg, Rivers, Schueler and Stankiewicz) were not abstract painters. They painted still-lifes, landscapes or figurative works, which differed from earlier Expressionist painting only in that the paint-handling was looser, more free, and the scale was generally larger. That the younger painters were by and large unable to make genuinely abstract paintings in New York is not surprising, since few members of the older generation had given them a precedent for doing so. It could be argued, in fact, that not until the gestural aspect of Abstract Expressionism had played itself out by emerging more and more clearly as a style based on landscape or figurative motifs could the impact of the atmospheric abstractions of Newman, Rothko, and Gottlieb be absorbed.

In his introduction, Friedman observed that the big difference between the younger painters and the first New York School painters was that, for the first time in the history of American art, they had domestic heroes. These domestic heroes were, to begin with, Pollock, de Kooning, and Still, since their pictures had received the most exposure, and their legends were the first to be formulated. Still’s admirers, who included painters like Dugmore, Briggs, Pace, etc., were mostly on the West Coast, though his heavy-handed, deliberately crude-looking impasto was imitated to a certain extent in New York as well. But, mainly, the second generation tended to take either Pollock or de Kooning as a model.

For an ambitious young American painter in the fifties it was difficult not to take a stand either in favor of de Kooning’s emotional, personal, painterliness which lacked a single characteristic image (unless we want to call the “woman” that), or Pollock’s all-over paintings, which offered an image but not a manner. Paradoxically, de Kooning’s example was more seductive because it did indeed offer a manner, a ready-made style and a “look” that could be imitated, whereas Pollock, in the drip paintings at any rate, had arrived at an image so distinct and unmistakable that to imitate it was to duplicate it. Perhaps it is clearer to say that it was less obviously imitative or derivative to strive for the rough, brushy, unfinished look of a de Kooning painting than it was to make a series of superimposed skeins of paint that had to end up looking like little more than a forged Pollock. Thus, if Pollock had something to offer, it was not a surface look, but a way of working, an attitude that was, in its rejection of the conventions of easel painting, radical and critical. It might be simpler still to say that the young painters who chose de Kooning as their model wound up making paintings that looked very much like de Kooning’s, whereas the works of the artists who looked to Pollock do not resemble Pollock’s paintings.

Now it could be argued that de Kooning never made a thoroughly abstract work, that is, a painting completely free of any reference to landscape or the figure. And it is certainly clear that Pollock was an abstract painter only during the four brief years (1947–51) in which he executed his classic “drip” paintings. With this in mind, I think it is much easier to understand why second-generation painters such as Leslie, Goldberg, Hartigan, and Rivers, to name the most prominent examples, had to struggle with semi-abstract styles, which, in their cases, at least, finally degenerated into facile illustration. Painters such as Mitchell and Goodnough and especially Frankenthaler, who were inspired by landscape motifs rather than by the figure seemed to fare better. In Frankenthaler’s case, the reason her paintings held up and hold up is clear: she was among the few to understand the implications of Pollock’s paintings.4

Frankenthaler’s historic role has yet to be fully acknowledged, and I think perhaps this is the point at which one might begin to define it. In the middle fifties, when the taste was for a thickly brushed surface encrusted with pigment, she was instead staining very thin paint, diluted to a maximum fluidity, directly into the canvas, with the result that she was able to achieve a much freer, looser and, if one likes, more spontaneous style than her contemporaries.5 Even at the time when they were first exhibited in a series of shows held in 1951–54 at the Kootz Gallery and later at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, these paintings were appreciated for their beauty and expressiveness, but I think it is only now that their originality and historical importance is beginning to be evaluated. In the first place, Frankenthaler seemed to experience none of the difficulty in reconciling the drawing, or structure, of the composition to the painting, or coloring, of it. For her, the two processes were identical. (This was not true for the vast majority of her contemporaries who used color only as fill between contours, or who, worse still, neglected it altogether, allowing the successive records of gestures to result in a muddy swamp of dull, lifeless overpainting.) But more than that, the degree to which she was able to develop an utterly personal palette, in which the most bizarre and peculiar juxtapositions of tints and mixtures, of rusty browns and reds, for example, with beiges and pinks that hovered between delicate and sickly, made her work startlingly unlike the standard being turned out. That she was able to draw directly in color, and to treat blots and spreading stains as individual, isolated areas of color which did not interrupt or interpenetrate one another gave her paintings a clarity, freshness and sparkle that were rare qualities in the fifties. The notion of color that “challenges taste” (which has become one of the most over-used cliches in current art writing) might be said to have been announced, in terms of the way it is used now at any rate, with Frankenthaler’s paintings.


NOT ONLY DID ABSTRACT Expressionism fail to resolve the conflict between abstraction and figuration, it literally came apart at the seams at the point of attempting to define the space in which the figure or landscape existed. Again, it was Pollock’s all-over paintings that seemed to offer at least a clue to the resolution of a kind of space that was so ambiguous and undefined that ultimately it could not suffice even to express tension, because it had lapsed i????to a kind of unlogical, contradictory laxness that finally gave the impression only of confusion. Asserting the surface qualities of the painting while using traditional light-dark contrasts and recessive-projective color contrasts was sure to make for ambiguity in a painterly, non-planimetric style. Hofmann’s celebrated “push-pull” method of balancing out these spatial tensions by fully and consciously acknowledging them was one way of successfully continuing to keep an ambiguous space within the boundaries of coherence.6

Some reactions to this pushing against the picture plane, to the extent that it finally had to give way, ought to be mentioned here. For example, given how closely his painted figures were smashed up against the picture plane, and how fully, at the same time, they were modeled, I have always seen George Segal’s sculpture as such a reaction to the problems of accommodating figures within a space inadequate to hold them. (For figure, one might substitute “form” and make a general statement about the incoherence of pictorial space in many of the paintings we are discussing.) Segal, who had been painting large Expressionist nudes, responded to this situation by allowing the figures literally to assume the third dimension toward which they aspired. Often, in looking at his sculptures, I have the feeling that they rolled right out of his canvases of the fifties to stand up on the floor. Similarly, Allan Kaprow and others began making “environments” that ultimately led to the “happenings” in which certain of the implications in the pictorial space of Abstract Expressionism (that, for instance, it was an ambience or environment that could engulf the spectator) were taken literally. But I think that Rauschenberg, who was the first to allow the painting to spill out into the spectator’s space by affixing objects to its surface, ought to be counted as the first to make such a literal statement about the nature of Abstract Expressionist space.

Another acknowledgement of the impossibility of working any longer with the unresolvedness of Abstract Expressionist space came from Al Held, one of the first artists to tighten his brushed gestures into clean, legible shapes. In a panel on all-over painting in 1958 Held observed that “the rigid logic of a two-dimensional esthetic binds us to the canvas surface making it an end in itself, not a means to an end. I would like to develop from this not by going inwards toward the old horizon, but outward toward the spectator. The space between the canvas and the spectator is real—emotionally, physically and logically. It exists as an actual extension of the canvas surface. I would like to use it as such and thus bridge the gulf that separates the painting from the viewer.” Held’s reaction resulted in a kind of painting that goes beyond Abstract Expressionism in its clarity, directness and immediacy, and which for these reasons has been classed with the “new abstraction” that superseded Abstract Expressionism.

Ultimately, the ambiguities of Abstract Expressionist space were too contradictory to be sustained and they were jettisoned in favor of another kind of literalness, in which any kind of illusionism was rejected in favor of an assertion of the two-dimensional character of the picture surface. The assertion of the real character of the painting surface as two-dimensional was first crystallized in opposition to the ambiguous space of Abstract Expressionism by Jasper Johns in the flags and targets done in 1954–55. Leo Steinberg has remarked on how Johns achieved flatness by identifying the image with the shape and dimension of the picture. The degree of flatness of the earliest flags and targets are what mark Johns’ works of the middle fifties as radical, or advanced. This has tended to become obscured because everything else about his paintings was reactionary, including their easel-painting scale and Cézannesque paint-handling. But nonetheless, his insistence on a rigid formal structuring, in opposition to the chaotic encounters of “action” painting should also be seen, within the context in which it was made, to have been radical. Although it is now fashionable to dismiss the formal importance of Johns’ paintings of the middle fifties by insisting that he was influential mainly because he introduced Pop imagery, I wonder really if the abstract painting of the sixties would look quite the same if one were to expunge Johns’ flags and targets from the record.7


THE SELF-CONSCIOUS CHAUVINISM of which the New York School has been accused was largely a matter of breaking with Europe. But once its independence had been established, and surely by the time of Pollock’s death in 1956 it was, Europe was scarcely a threat any longer. Not surprisingly, the attitude toward Europe of the second generation was quite different from that of the older generation. Secure in the knowledge that American painting had achieved major-league status, they were neither as defensive nor as dependent on European painting as former generations of American painters had been. Many of them, in fact, settled in Europe after the war, studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts or at the Grande Chaumiere on the G.I. Bill, which became for the second generation what the W.P.A. had been for the first. Artists who spent time in Paris after the war include Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman, Al Held, Norman Bluhm, Sam Francis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Robert Rauschenberg. Apparently being outside of New York gave these young painters a kind of independence that was virtually impossible for their peers who worked in the shadow of the giants of the “heroic” generation.

Thus, one of the most significant differences between first and second generation artists was their attitude toward Europe. For the second generation, Surrealism was not in any way an issue, whereas for the first it had been the decisive encounter, even if this encounter had taken place on native ground. It seems to me that this is an important point to recognize. If the “breakthrough” for the first generation was made from the rigidity of the Cubist grid in the direction of a more liberated style under the influence of Surrealism, then the “breakthrough” of the second generation was of an entirely different nature. It has been my argument that the “breakthrough” made by certain members of the second generation began in a criticism of Abstract Expressionism in terms of its internal contradictions and ended in a resolution of these contradictions in favor of a simplified conceptual abstraction stressing flatness and large areas of color. I outlined what I thought to have been the contributions of Frankenthaler and Johns, who worked in New York. For the rest of the story of the “breakthrough” one must look outside of New York. Kelly and Youngerman, who stayed longest in Paris before returning, developed very simple, pared-down styles earliest, probably because of a prolonged contact with European purism. But the change in their paintings that a return to New York brought about was quite startling. For example, the roughness of technique and thickness of impasto in their work of the mid-fifties is quite revealing when contrasted with what both are doing now. And both have changed not only the scale of their paintings but their whole attitude toward color as well, arriving at the kind of reductive chromatic abstraction characteristic of the sixties through the back door, as it were. Noland and Olitski, on the other hand, also worked outside of New York. Like Dzubas, Louis, and Frankenthaler, they ultimately derived their way of working from Pollock, though Glitski’s exaggeratedly thick encrusted surfaces of the fifties scarcely gave any hint as to his future development as a color painter.8

Relating Kelly, Youngerman, Noland, and Olitski to the second generation might seem like forcing the issue. But though their formation was quite different-only Noland ever made paintings that were as loose and painterly as New York work their mature styles mark them not only as distinctly American painters but as painters of a second generation. They are marked as the former by their ambition, scale, and directness, and as the latter by the manner in which they were able to take certain matters for granted; there is an ease, fluidity, and grace to their work, coupled with a concomitant lack of posturing and pretension which stamps them as heirs rather than fathers of a tradition. If there is conflict and struggle in their works, then these are purely pictorial, the psychological battles having already been won by the older men. The point is not to imply that their struggle is in any way less heroic, but simply that it is substantially different.

Among the artists shown in the Jewish Museum exhibition there was one common denominator: these were immensely gifted men and women, far more “talented” in the conventional sense than some first-generation artists. The combined talent, facility, and virtuosity, for example of Joan Mitchell, Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, Norman Bluhm, Michael Goldberg, and Alfred Leslie is enough to make any of the virtuosi of the past envious. And yet, in the majority of cases, talent was their downfall. Of the group, Alfred Leslie was perhaps the most talented although, in his most exhilarating performances in de Kooning’s manner, it is precisely the ease of execution that betrays him. We find lacking that sense of struggle, which, if there ever was a “crisis content,” is at the heart of de Kooning’s work. For even the best work of the second generation is remarkably relaxed, for all the talk of tension and anxiety. What is important about the contribution of those who transcended mere virtuosity is that they altered the course of art history by means of transformations and critical re-evaluations of conflicts that were in themselves enormously challenging. That the New York School was capable of sustaining itself and expanding and changing in the ways I have been enumerating is in itself testimony to the largeness of its initial potential and to the strength of its rebellious heirs.

Barbara Rose



1. Although Rosenberg’s words carried enormous weight, only Rauschenberg took him absolutely literally here. The reductio ad absurdum of this, as of every other “action painting” cliché, ended finally with his twin “action paintings” Factum I and Factum I, in which every spontaneous drip and accident is carefully duplicated. The tendency to dismiss Rauschenberg as a neo-Dadaist is to miss his organic relationship with Abstract Expressionism, which he began criticizing as early as 1951 in his black paintings. Before Rauschenberg could begin acting “in the gap between art and life,” for example, Rosenberg had to assert there was no distinction to be made between the two.

2. I am insisting on the importance of Rosenberg’s essay because I feel it was crucial in setting a tone for a generation of painters and in providing three or four key notions about painting that made for endless hours of discussion. I should hasten, however, to point out that the ultimate idiocies and inanities of the late fifties, though they could not have occurred elsewhere than in the atmosphere of mindlessness encouraged by action-thinking, in no way issued from Mr. Rosenberg, but were rather part of the anti-intellectualism of the beat movement as it merged for a short time with the artistic milieu of the Cedar, the Five Spot and Tenth Street. The worst moment, surely, was that of Existential Zen Neo-Piatonism which colored the brief meeting of artists and beat poets in New York, and the less said of it now the better.

3. Selected mainly by Meyer Schapiro, the exhibition included works by Gandy Brodie, Elaine de Kooning, Robert De Niro, Jean Follett, Miles Forst, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Goodnough, Grace Hartigan, L. Jocelyn, Jasper Johns, Lester Johnson, Wolf Kahn, Allan Kaprow, Alfred Leslie, Joan Mitchell, Jan Muller, Felix Pasilis, Robert Rauschenberg, Milton Resnick, David Sawin, George Segal, Liz a Shapiro, and Hyde Solomon.

4. Sam Francis, whose paintings have never been properly understood in New York also took his lead from Pollock’s all-over drip paintings, as did Frieden Dzubas, Norman Bluhm and others.

5. In the catalog essay to “Three American Painters,” (Fogg Museum, Harvard, 1965), Michael Fried documents Frankenthaler’s influence on Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. He describes a trip to New York the two made in 1953, where they saw Frankenthaler’s “Mountains and Sea,” a painting executed in this loose transparent stain technique.

6. At this point it might be useful to point out how Hofmann influenced second generation painters. Among those who studied with Hofmann in New York and Provincetown during the late forties and early fifties were Beauchamp, Stefanelli, Wolf Kahn, Larry Rivers, Allan Kaprow, Jean Follett, Helen Frankenthaler, Jane Freilicher, Robert Goodnough, Julius Hatofsky, and Robert Rauchenberg. Wolf Kahn described a typical session in which “Drawings were torn in half and one part shifted against the other to show a possibility of movement where before there was none.” He describes as well (in a statement given on the occasion of the traveling exhibition of Hofmann’s students organized by William Seitz for the Museum of Modern Art in 1963) Hofmann criticizing a student’s work with the statement, “Your palette is more beautiful than your paintings.”

7. The issue of the formal importance of Johns’ paintings has been further complicated by the direction he has taken since 1959. Because his later paintings are looser and less structured than the early works, the importance of the early works is easily overlooked. But if Johns himself did not care to pursue the formal implications of his own paintings, their impact on other painters ought not to be underestimated. (Although Kenneth Noland was painting centered motifs in 1957, these paintings were not included in his first show in New York in 1957 and 1958, nor did his work begin to receive widespread critical attention until the sixties.) Johns’ flags and targets represent a turning point in another sense, too: they are the first entirely preconceived paintings turned out by an artist of the second generation. Though small variations in brushwork might be the result of accidents, the schema was predetermined. Nothing was left unfinished, and no revisionary “action” could take place once the plan was decided on. This summary rejection of the entire method of the Abstract Expressionists must also be taken into consideration in accounting for the sensation Johns’ paintings caused when they were first exhibited in New York in the late fifties.

8. Olitski’s paintings of the early fifties, which, in their insistence on matter and texture, seem to have something to do with European “art informel” are possibly the oddest paintings done by any American of his generation. But their renunciation of space behind the frame in favor of an almost exclusively tactile involvement with a relief-like building up on top of the surface might also be seen as the acknowledgment of the contradictions in either Abstract Expressionist or “informal” painting.