Americans in Paris

Artists Working in Postwar France, 1946–1962

Opens March 2, 2024

Americans in Paris: Artists Working in Postwar France, 1946–1962
Opens March 2, 2024

Americans in Paris: Artists Working in Postwar France, 1946–1962 is the first major exhibition to examine the historical impact of the expatriate art scene in Paris after World War II, and delves into the various circles of artists who made France their home during an era of intense geopolitical realignment. This international loan exhibition showcases more than 130 works by approximately 70 artists, providing a fresh perspective on a moment of creative ferment too often overshadowed by the contemporaneous ascendancy of the New York City art scene.

The exhibition covers a 17-year period beginning in 1946, when the U.S. Embassy in Paris began processing applications from ex-service members for the new GI Bill. A monthly stipend of $75 allowed many artists, such as Norman Bluhm, Ed Clark, Sam Francis, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, and Jack Youngerman, along with many whose work has not received the recognition it merits, such as Robert Breer, Harold Cousins, and Shinkichi Tajiri, to opt for a foreign rather than a domestic learning experience. Seasoned artists, such as Beauford Delaney, Claire Falkenstein, Carmen Herrera, Joan Mitchell, Kimber Smith, and Mark Tobey, like the GIs, were drawn to the storied modernist traditions that still flowed from this fabled City of Light. Intense experimentation among these closely knit, if shifting, circles of artists generated a variety of formal inventions and personal artistic styles. Because a good number of the works on view come from early in the artists’ careers, Americans in Paris contributes to the understanding of the development of many of the featured artists—dramatically so in the case of the abstract paintings by William Klein, works that preceded his experiments in photography and his later success as an art and commercial photographer and a filmmaker.

While the first section of Americans in Paris focuses on 25 American artists who lived and worked in France for a year or more, the second section—the “Salon”—provides visitors with a snapshot of art that the expats themselves would have encountered in the influential salons and galleries of postwar Paris. Americans in Paris investigates the academies where many of these artists studied, the spaces where their work was exhibited, the aesthetic discourses that animated their conversations, their interactions with European artists, and the overarching issue of what it meant to be an American abroad. The exhibition also sheds new light on the contributions of artists who relocated to France hoping to escape institutionalized racism, sexism, and homophobia. At the same time, the Americans encountered undercurrents of nationalistic tension, as French artists and critics sought to maintain the centuries-long artistic preeminence of the City of Light. By 1962—when the show concludes—many artists felt that the once-inspiring atmosphere in Paris had diminished. That same year, Algeria achieved independence from France after many years of demonstrations and riots, and ultimately, war. By then, many Americans had decided to return to the U.S., which was experiencing a burgeoning Civil Rights movement of its own, along with—due to the rise of artist-run galleries in New York—more opportunities to exhibit.

Six years in the making, Americans in Paris is curated by the independent scholar Debra Bricker Balken with Lynn Gumpert, and is accompanied by a 300-page illustrated publication.

Header Image: Ed Clark, The City (1952). Acrylic on canvas, 51 x 78 1/2 in. (129.5 x 199.4 cm). Collection of Melanca Clark, Detroit. Courtesy Hauser and Wirth. © Estate of Ed Clark. Photo: Hollister and Young, Michigan Imaging

Starts Saturday, Mar 02, 2024
Ends Saturday, Jul 20, 2024
Curator Debra Bricker Balken, Lynn Gumpert
Organized by Grey Art Gallery, NYU

American in Paris: Artists Working in Postwar France, 1946–1962 is organized by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University. Curated by Debra Bricker Balken with Lynn Gumpert, the exhibition is made possible in part by generous support from the Terra Foundation for American Art, sponsor of the international tour; the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation; Hauser & Wirth; the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation; The Falkenstein Foundation; the O’Brien Art Foundation; Francis H. Williams and Keris Salmon; Robert E. Holmes and David Hubensky; the Al Held Foundation; David Hall Gallery, LLC, Wellesley, MA; the Sam Francis Foundation; the Grey’s Director’s Circle, Inter/National Council, and Friends; and the Abby Weed Grey Trust. In-kind support is provided by ArtCare Conservation, Ryan Lee Gallery, and Les Films du Jeudi. Support for the publication has been provided by the Boris Lurie Art Foundation; the Henry Luce Foundation; and the Schaina & Josephina Lurje Memorial Foundation. Funding for travel and research was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art; Global Research Initiatives, Office of the Provost, New York University; and the Rhode Island School of Design Professional Development Fund.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.