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What was the art market like in the 1950s?

The art market in the 1950s was characterised by significant developments and transformations, influenced by a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors. The 1950s art market was a dynamic and transformative period that set the stage for the explosive growth and diversification of the art world in the subsequent decades.

Post-War Boom and Economic Prosperity

Economic Growth: The post-World War II economic boom led to increased disposable income and a burgeoning middle class, which expanded the market for art.

Consumerism: There was a growing interest in art collecting as a symbol of status and cultural sophistication among the affluent.

Untitled, Jackson Pollock, Susan Sheehan Gallery
Automatism A, Robert Motherwell, Emanuel von Baeyer - Cabinet
I-S LXXI B, Josef Albers, Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art
A Whole Stocking Full Of Good Wishes, Andy Warhol, Baldwin Contemporary

Post-War Boom and Economic Prosperity

New York’s Ascendancy: New York City emerged as the new center of the art world, overtaking Paris. This shift was fueled by the influx of European artists and intellectuals during and after the war.

Abstract Expressionism: This movement, led by artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, dominated the New York art scene and gained international recognition.

Prominent Art Movements

Abstract Expressionism: The movement emphasised spontaneous, automatic, or subconscious creation and was seen as a response to the anxiety and trauma of the war.

Pop Art: Although it gained prominence in the early 1960s, its roots were planted in the 1950s with artists like Richard Hamilton and Jasper Johns, who began exploring themes of consumerism and popular culture.

Fashion-plate, Richard Hamilton, Sims Reed Gallery
Untitled, Karel Appel, Sylvan Cole Gallery
L’oubli, Asger Jorn, Composition Gallery
Untitled (Red, Yellow, Blue) framed, Jasper Johns, Petersburg Press

Art Institutions and Galleries

Growth of Galleries: The number of galleries in New York and other major cities increased, providing platforms for contemporary artists to showcase their work.

Museum Exhibitions: Major museums like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York played a crucial role in promoting modern and contemporary art through exhibitions and acquisitions

Art Criticism and Theory

Clement Greenberg: As a leading art critic, Greenberg championed Abstract Expressionism and formalism, influencing public and critical perceptions of contemporary art.

Harold Rosenberg: Another influential critic, Rosenberg coined the term “action painting” to describe the dynamic and expressive techniques of Abstract Expressionist painters.

Jeux Et Travaux, Jean Dubuffet, Isselbacher Gallery
Causeway, Helen Frankenthaler, Michael Lisi/Contemporary Art
Souvenir of Montauk, Willem De Kooning, Jim Kempner Fine Art
The Pointing Man, in the Studio | L’homme qui pointe dans l’atelier, Alberto Giacometti, Gilden's Art Gallery

International Influence

European Influence: Despite the rise of New York, European artists and movements continued to exert significant influence. The COBRA movement (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) and Art Informel were notable examples.

Biennales: International art exhibitions like the Venice Biennale provided a platform for global artistic exchange and recognition.

Technological and Media Impact

Reproduction and Distribution: Advances in technology allowed for better reproduction and wider distribution of artworks, contributing to the increased visibility and commercialization of art.