Final Research Question: Andrea Kutsenkow

The Subjects of the Artist was a school founded during the fall of 1948 in a loft at 35 East Eighth Street by Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, David Hare and William Baziotes, although the initial idea of the artist-run school belonged to Clyfford Still. Frustrated by the difficulties of the collaboration, Still returned to San Francisco even before the school opened on October 11, and Barnett Newman, who came up with the school's official name, was recruited. The purpose of the school, as its name suggests, was to emphasize the idea that even the most abstract art has subjects.

After World War II, New York City was saturated with artist-run schools, many being taught by expatriates who were still interested in cubism and surrealism. At the time, schools like The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art, The Ozenfant School of Fine Arts and The Art Students League of New York were incredibly popular and well-advertised, including in ARTnews. However, as the art capital of the world shifted from Paris to Manhattan, the Subjects of the Artist occupied an interesting niche among the numerous studio schools. The school's lectures proved to be popular as a new generation of artists, many living and working in the Village, were able to leave the solitude of their studios and engage in conversations about the shift away from earlier artistic traditions. The Subjects of the Artist was at the center of the birth of what would later become known as abstract expressionism, the first uniquely American movement that would gain international recognition. The founders would experience breakthroughs in their own artistic practice as they each discovered their own signature mark. During this time, Rothko developed his "multi-forms" while Newman discovered his signature "zips." For decades, the art historical literature will focus on these signature styles up until the 1970s when there will be a revival of interest in the Subjects of the Artist since its very mission disproved the idea abstract expressionism was solely about formal issues.

This topic is difficult to explore in-depth due to the lack of information directly about the school. Many of the primary materials related to the school can be found in the Robert Motherwell Papers owned by the Dedalus Foundation, but the foundation is currently closed to researchers until 2016. Luckily, the foundation has digitized many sources for their website. Other primary sources are available through the libraries of New York University, including publications the founders contributed to during this time, including VVV magazine, The Tiger's Eye, and Modern Artists in America. Artwork produced by the founders during the late 1940s is currently on view at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Additionally, Yale University has made much of their permanent collection, including early works by these artists, readily available online. Furthermore, there are numerous secondary sources about abstract expressionism. I found The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton, Abstract Expressionism (Themes & Movements) by Kay Siegel, and Reading Abstract Expressionism: Context and Critique by Ellen G. Landau the most helpful because the books provided more information about the school than just brief footnotes. Also helpful were the exhibition catalogues from the shows at the downtown branch of the Whitney and the National Gallery in the 1970s that borrowed their exhibition titles from the name of the school and were more broadly interested in re-examining abstract expressionism.

Due to this lack of information and due to a great deal of conflicting information among sources, I have decided a simple narrative about the school, a re-discovering of the Subject of the Artists, is ideal for now. Since there are many people and places to discuss within my exhibition, I plan on supplementing the text with timelines and maps. Much of my final digital archive and most of the visuals for my final exhibition will be of artwork from the time period in order to attract a broader audience, including those who may not have a strong background in modern art.

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