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Audio Guide

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Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera

2081. Introduction

Gallery 917


NARRATOR: Welcome to Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera, an exploration of large-scale abstract painting, sculpture, and assemblage from the 1940s through the twenty-first century. Curator Randy Griffey organized this exhibition.

RANDY GRIFFEY: The word “epic” in Epic Abstraction has multiple meanings. One is that it refers to the literal size and scale of the works included. But it also relates to the ideas and the concepts these artists are exploring in their work: nature, existentialism, history. But also “epic” refers to the legacy of Abstract Expressionism which still looms large in the collective imagination.

NARRATOR: This movement in American art was centered in New York after World War II. The aftermath of the war played a key role in its origin. There was a new consciousness of the dark side of human nature as well an awareness of its irrationality and vulnerability. To communicate this fundamental shift in society and culture, artists moved away from traditional art practices.

Abstract Expressionism, however, did not appear suddenly, fully formed. New approaches to style and technique such as the luminous blocks of color seen in Color Field painting; the exacting geometry of hard-edge painting; and the expressive and diverse markings in gesture painting were developments based on earlier artistic practices.

For example, Abstract Expressionism drew on European Surrealism and its fascination with automatism, the practice of automatic mark-making, as a way of tapping into unconscious drives and desires. And the large-scale format Abstract Expressionist artists adopted was rooted in muralist traditions, both American and Mexican, from earlier in the twentieth century.

A common perception, or rather misconception, has been that large-scale abstract art in the post-war period was the province of heroic white men. And while this exhibition features icons like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, it also highlights work by a more diverse group of innovators who explored large-scale artwork.

RANDY GRIFFEY: Epic Abstraction takes a wider view of large-scale abstract work to include work by people of color and many women. In fact, some of the largest works in the exhibition are by women.

NARRATOR: In addition to Randy Griffey, you will hear from The Met’s Sheena Wagstaff, Kelly Baum, John Carpenter, Beatrice Galilee, and Iria Candela, along with archival recordings of some of the artists themselves.

This Audio Guide is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.


  1. 2081. Introduction
  2. 2083. Mark Rothko
  3. 2084. Jackson Pollock, Number 28, 1950
  4. 2085. Hedda Sterne, New York #2
  5. 2086. Cy Twombly, Dutch Interior
  6. 2089. Chakaia Booker, Raw Attraction
  7. 2090. Louise Nevelson, Mrs. N's Palace
  8. 2092. Carmen Herrera, Equilibrio
  9. 2095. Helen Frankenthaler, Western Dream
  10. 2096. Annie Truitt, Goldsborough