The Rise and (Partial) Fall of Abstract Painting in the Twentieth Century

David Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 13744
Issued in January 2008
NBER Program(s):   LS

Non-representational painting was one of the most radical artistic innovations of the twentieth century. Abstract painting was created independently by three great pioneers - the experimental innovators Kandinsky and Mondrian, and the conceptual Malevich - virtually simultaneously, in the years immediately before and after the outbreak of World War I. It became the dominant form of advanced art in the decade after the end of World War II, as Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, and their colleagues developed the experimental forms of Abstract Expressionism. But in the late 1950s and early '60s, Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol, and a host of other young artists abruptly made a conceptual revolution in advanced art, and in the process reduced abstract painting to a minor role. The pioneers of abstract painting and the Abstract Expressionists had all been committed to abstraction as a vehicle for artistic discovery, and had believed that it would dominate the art of the future, but since the 1960s abstraction has become at most a part-time style for leading painters, and it is often used to mock the seriousness of earlier abstract painters.

download in pdf format
   (101 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (101 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w13744

Published: The Rise and (Partial) Fall of Abstract Painting in the Twentieth Century, David W. Galenson. in Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art, Galenson. 2009

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Galenson w12403 Two Paths to Abstract Art: Kandinsky and Malevich
Galenson w11501 Toward Abstraction: Ranking European Painters of the Early Twentieth Century
Galenson w12714 Painting by Proxy: The Conceptual Artist as Manufacturer
Galenson w12185 Analyzing Artistic Innovation: The Greatest Breakthroughs of the Twentieth Century
Galenson w14066 The Back Story of Twentieth-Century Art
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us