Art: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye

In New York, the pessimistic vision of the late Philip Guston

Nearly everyone who was concerned with American abstract expressionism—critics, curators, the artists themselves—agreed on one thing: the movement, like its godparent, surrealism, was all about freedom. In Jackson Pollock's drips lay written the unfettered play of the mind, the swift "existential" decisions of the hand. Because it incarnated liberty, some thought, abstract expressionism transcended style. This cherished notion was very much a part of its time, a fixture of the '50s, like James Dean, the beats or the vogue for Camusian outsiders. In later years, it was more honored in...

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