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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Mexico and American Abstraction

Dr Ellen Landau.

This paper reconsiders a key phase of American art in the framework of contact with another culture and interaction with other disciplines. In it I explore the attraction to Mexico and/or Mexican art shared by Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Isamu Noguchi and Philip Guston, four major artists of the mid-2oth century, in order to challenge widely held assumptions about the pre-eminently Eurocentric origins of Abstract Expressionism. My interpretive strategies take into strong consideration such synthetic imperatives as hybridity, rhetoric, and the dialogue between media. Zeroing in on cross-reference points between Mexico and American Abstract Expressionism complicates considerably the standard story of its development. Analysis of contacts made by these four artists (three painters and one sculptor) with and in Mexico in the 1930s and 1940s reveals the catalytic role of this intercultural connection for a significant cadre of the American avant-garde. My aim in this endeavor is to broaden analysis of the cultural roots of modern aesthetic innovation. Politics, literature, dance history and ethnic studies (diaspora meanings) all play a role in my analysis of a topic which constitutes an interesting case study on issues of globalism and identity formation.


Dr Ellen Landau  (United States)
Professor of Art History
Department of Art History and Art
Case Western Reserve University

Ellen G. Landau, Professor of Modern Art History at Case Western Reserve University is the author of Jackson Pollock (NY: Abrams, 1989) and Lee Krasner: A Catalogue Raisonne (Abrams, 1995) as well as numerous essays in US and international journals and exhibition catalogues on American Abstract Expressionism and other related topics. Her book Reading Abstract Expressionism: Context and Critique is forthcoming from Yale University Press.

  • Globalism
  • Identity Formation
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Mexican Art
  • Modernism
  • Hybridity
Person as Subject
  • Pollock, Jackson Motherwell, Robert Noguchi, Isamu Guston, Philip

(30 min Conference Paper, English)