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American Art in the 20th Century

AMERICAN PAINTING TRIUMPHED SOMETIME after 1945 and began a golden 25 years of New World dominance in avant-garde art. That familiar thesis underpins the exhibition “American Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture 1913–1993,” seen in Berlin over the summer and in somewhat modified form this autumn at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Saatchi Gallery in London. But the show’s organizers, the long-standing team of Norman Rosenthal and Christos M. Joachimedes, have given the truism a new historiographic twist by interpreting it to mean that American painting did not exactly triumph over Europe; rather, it succeeded on Europe’s behalf. Modern art, in their view, was—and has returned to being—an essentially European proposition. The devastation of World War II threatened to extinguish its development for a generation or perhaps forever, but the Americans, at a safe remove from

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