The critic who looks back from the perspective of 1985 to the American art world as it existed in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War discovers straightaway that something very odd has happened to his subject. It has, in a sense, become unrecognizable. To a degree that would have been unimaginable only a very short time ago, it has been turned into an intellectual battleground from which the artists then at work and the works of art they produced at the time—heretofore regarded as the primary materials on which the art history of the period would naturally be based—have all but disappeared from the discussion. Just the other day, it seems, there was a lively debate in progress about the relative standing of Pollock and de Kooning, of Rothko and Newman, of Motherwell and Still, as recent exhibitions and publications afforded critics and historians new opportunities to re-examine their work and thus assess the strengths and the weaknesses—even, perhaps,...


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