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Exhibitions/ Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera

Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera

At The Met Fifth Avenue
December 17, 2018–February 4, 2020

Exhibition Overview

Epic Abstraction is closed, but many of the works remain on view in galleries 917–925.

We felt the moral crisis of a world in shambles, a world devastated by a great depression and a fierce world war, and it was impossible at that time to paint the kind of painting that we were doing—flowers, reclining nudes, and people playing the cello. . . . So we actually began . . . as if painting were not only dead but had never existed.

—Barnett Newman, 1967

Artist and theorist Barnett Newman mythologized the origins of the movement known as Abstract Expressionism as having emerged in the 1940s from a tabula rasa, or "blank slate." In truth, the work of the Abstract Expressionists, a group of New York–based painters and sculptors bound loosely by shared interests in mythic themes and European Surrealism, developed within a particular set of historical conditions— particularly emigration from and exchange with Europe, Mexico, Latin America, and Asia, and the city's emergence as a global economic capital.

Newman's account rightly suggests the feeling widespread among artists of the period that traditional easel painting and figurative sculpture could no longer adequately convey the modern human condition in the wake of unprecedented misery and devastation, including the 1945 atomic bombings in Japan authorized by the U.S. government. In this context, artists such as Newman, Jackson Pollock, and others came to believe that abstract styles—often executed on a grand scale—most meaningfully expressed contemporary states of being.

Epic Abstraction features large-scale abstract painting and sculpture from the 1940s through the early twenty-first century, drawn primarily from The Met collection. Abstract Expressionism serves as the springboard for a thematic installation that intersperses enduring icons with works by lesser-known artists and debuts new acquisitions. Many of the artists represented here worked in large formats because they sought not only to have the scope to fully explore line, color, shape, and texture, but also to evoke expansive—"epic"—ideas and subjects, including time, history, the body, and existential concerns of the self.

Accompanied by an Audio Guide.


"Critical and expansive . . . a sterling example of how the Met is reinventing what it means to be encyclopedic." — Blouin Artinfo

". . . showcases some outstanding and sometimes infrequently seen works, and places some familiar, stellar examples in new contexts." —Wall Street Journal

The exhibition is made possible by Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown and the Diane W. and James E. Burke Fund.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in

Audio Guide

Hear Met curators discuss the grand themes and distinguishing details of these revolutionary works, as well as archival recordings of select artists.

Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies


Dancer Omari Mizrahi dances in front of Mark Bradford's "Duck Walk"

In this episode of MetCollects, legendary dancer Omari Mizrahi performs in front of Mark Bradford's Duck Walk and discusses the artwork's relationship to the history of voguing.

Exhibition Highlights

Marquee: Jackson Pollock (American, 1912–1956). Number 28, 1950 (detail), 1950. Enamel on canvas, 68 1/8 x 105 in. (173 x 266.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection, Gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, in honor of her grandchildren, Ellen Steinberg Coven and Dr. Peter Steinberg, 2006 (2006.32.51) © 2018 The Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. MetCollects: Mark Bradford (American, b. 1961). Duck Walk, 2016. Mixed media on canvas, 9 ft. 1/4 in. x 14 ft. 1/2 in. (275 x 428 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Anonymous Gift, 2017 (2017.291a, b). © Mark Bradford. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth