Forty-odd years since the triumph of American painting (to borrow Irving Sandler’s stirring phrase), Abstract Expressionism has been going through something of a reappraisal. Within the past few months there have been significant gallery and museum exhibitions devoted to artists linked with what is probably the most influential movement in twentieth-century American art. What is interesting about the cumulative impact of these shows is not that they constitute a critical re-evaluation—far from it. Rather, they serve as a confirmation of New York’s one-time artistic pre-eminence. Such ego-boosting seems inevitable, and is it any wonder? The art world, having become accustomed to a cultural fatigue fueled by novelty and narcissism, may well be pining for—dare it be said?—art of substance.

But is Abstract Expressionism necessarily the best place to find it? The event of the season has been the...

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