A new history of postwar painting that explores how the desire to look backward shaped some of the period’s most radical artmaking
This incisive account of modernism’s postwar development examines how painters, such as Joan Mitchell, Barnett Newman, and Rose Piper, invoked tradition in order to respond to, participate in, and disrupt the histories of the movement being written at midcentury. Saul Nelson argues that artists’ turn to the past, often dismissed as regressive, offers an important counternarrative to the notion of modernism as always pushing forward. To be a modernist, Nelson contends, was to live in doubt—about which aspects of the past were still needed and how they might be put to new use.
The story ranges across continents and historical boundaries, from India to Europe and the United States. It encompasses Grace Hartigan’s and Mitchell’s feminist reworkings of Matisse, the links between the work of Newman and nationalistic nineteenth-century painting, the attempts of Piper to salvage a heritage from the Harlem Renaissance, and F. N. Souza’s interrogations of the legacies of colonialism. Never Ending presents a new history of postwar painting in which modernism is reimagined as a practice of retrieval and reinvention, a ceaseless confrontation between tradition and the demands of the present.
Saul Nelson is Junior Research Fellow in the History of Art at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.
“Nelson writes against the modernist and postmodernist tropes of break, breakthrough, and radiant new light. The result is a gravely beautiful reimagining of well-known and less well-known art, strung along a tensile argument that flows from first page to last.”—Alexander Nemerov, author of Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York
“A genuinely intelligent and substantial study, Never Ending offers a fresh perspective on tendencies in postwar ‘modernist’ painting that conventional wisdom has overlooked.”—Alex Potts, author of Experiments in Modern Realism: World Making in Postwar European and American Art
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