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Franz Kline

To experiment on your own, take our online studio course Materials and Techniques of Postwar Abstract Painting or learn more about the art of this time in the online history course Modern and Contemporary Art: 1945-1989. Created by The Museum of Modern Art.

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Video transcript

Ann: The importance of ... of the two factors of scale and of gesture in abstract expressionism are exemplified in the paintings of Franz Kline. Usually with a white background and then either only with black or with black and some other dark colors in a very sober, somber but very strong key, we have canvases that present I think perhaps a very American idea in terms of the expaniveness of the landscape in terms of the bravado of the new. It's easy to make generalizations about how serene American art differs from European art, but in the case of these paintings by Franz Kline, I think it's actually, it holds true. The abstract expressionists saw what they felt were the elegant qualities of European art as something that needed to be replaced with painting that focused on a sort of rawness or brutality even that seemed to exemplify the new world. Scale was one way. They were making paintings, not that you could paint on an easel, but that need to be painted on the floor or just have the canvas tacked on the wall of the studio because these were paintings that were bigger than the human arm span or height and instead these were paintings whose scale was going to engulf you. They were not paintings that you were going to dominate, either as a maker or a viewer and similarly, you are not going to have a polite brushstroke daintily made by holding a brush in one hand and a palette in the other hand, but instead the kind of forceful, gestural strength that means that stroke was made not just with fingers, not just with a wrist, not just with an elbow but with the whole arm and probably even the whole body and when you look at those marks on a Franz Kline painting, you have the feeling almost of bridges in America or railroad tracks or these other parts of the country that were typical of the technologies and the industry that had set America apart in the 19th century. Franz Kline was one of the regulars at the Cedar Tavern and really a [unintelligible] member of the abstract expressionist group. I think we hear a lot of stories about how solitary they were in their struggles or how moody they were as they wrestled with their art, but in fact that wasn't always the case. There was often times real camaraderie, real helping of each other at difficult stages and Franz Kline was one of those who was the most supportive and really inspiring to the painters and sculptors around him.