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Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionist artists reinvented abstract painting—and other media—forming a distinctly American style.

The Processes and Materials of Abstract Expressionist Painting

Discover the innovative tecniques of Abstract Expressionist painters

Abstract Expressionism: A New Art for a New World

After the atrocities of World War II, many artists felt that the world needed to be reinvented

The Sublime and the Spiritual

Abstract Expressionists used color and scale to create a sense of spirituality and the sublime

Abstract Expressionist Sculpture

Explore how sculptors took on the challenges of Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is often thought of as a revolution in painting, but the movement also included several sculptors whose work challenged traditional conventions of the medium. David Smith made open structures that defied the heavy mass and volume usually associated with sculpture. Louise Nevelson placed her sculptural assemblages against the wall, sharing the grand scale of her painter contemporaries. Like their peers, sculptors also turned to unconventional and often scavenged materials, as well as less-common processes, such as welding.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

David Smith: Painter, Sculptor, Draftsman, ed. Edward F. Fry (Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1982), 130.

A process of joining two pieces of metal together by heating the surfaces to the point of melting and then pressing them together.

The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).

A three-dimensional work of art made from combinations of materials including found objects or non-traditional art materials.


AUDIO: Introduction to the exhibition Rock, Paper, Scissors

Questions & Activities

  1. What is a sculpture?

    David Smith once said, “I do not recognize the limits where painting ends and sculpture begins.”1

    Consider this statement. What makes something a painting? What makes something a sculpture?

    Compare. Traditionally, sculptures were made from materials such as bronze or marble, and they often sit on pedestals. How are the sculptures of David Smith and Louise Nevelson like traditional sculpture? How are they different from traditional sculpture?

    Summarize your thoughts in a one- or two-paragraph response.