NYU's Grey Art Museum Reopens with Ambitious 'Americans in Paris' Show

February 06, 2024

Americans in Paris continues the Grey’s tradition of academic investigations and scholarship that are central to its mission. Let’s begin with the most obvious question: Why did so many American artists gravitate to Paris in the wake of World War II? Paris attracted artists like Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, and Peter Saul, who were still referencing the figure. Of course, the GI Bill was a big incentive and it allowed [former soldiers] to enroll at one of a number of private academies. “Pollack had the WPA, and we had the GI Bill,” he says.

Americans in Paris continues the Grey’s tradition of academic investigations and scholarship that are central to its mission. In fact, the upcoming exhibition grew from 2017’s acclaimed Inventing Downtown, a show that examined New York City’s artist-led galleries in the 1950s and 1960s.

NYU News caught up with Gumpert to talk about this transformational moment for the former Grey Art Gallery, the significance of its inaugural exhibition, and the role of a fine arts museum in a university.

Let’s begin with the most obvious question: Why did so many American artists gravitate to Paris in the wake of World War II?

Well, first of all, it’s Paris, with its centuries-long reputation as the world’s artistic capital — that is, until the mid-1940s with New York’s ascendancy. Paris is so romantic, it has history and world-class museums, and you could still run into Picasso, visit Jean Arp, or see Satre, Beauvoir, and Giacometti drinking espresso in its famed cafes. Also, Paris fostered a certain freedom and a wide range of artistic approaches were possible. Some of the painters were still figurative where in New York, there was a strong emphasis on abstraction. Paris attracted artists like Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, and Peter Saul, who were still referencing the figure.

Of course, the GI Bill was a big incentive and it allowed [former soldiers] to enroll at one of a number of private academies. And it was easier than enrolling at an American university, where you had to apply a year in advance and wait to learn if you were accepted. They could go to Paris, sign up immediately at the Académie Julian, École des Beaux-Arts, or Académie de la Grande Chaumière, and paint without needing to get a day job. They received a stipend of $75 a month, which went far in post-occupied France. For example, hotels cost a dollar a day, and they could eat well in restaurants for 50 cents.

In the book’s oral history, artist Jack Youngerman likens the GI Bill to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in terms of its significance to artists.  “Pollack had the WPA, and we had the GI Bill,” he says. “Those were two very important programs, and in a way, there's been nothing like that since.” Do you agree?

Yes, exactly! It was a major seismic shift. Many of the artists, especially in the first wave who moved to Paris, had already attended art schools in the U.S., so they didn’t need to learn the basics. But they could make artworks in their hotel rooms or at the academies.

The source of this news is from New York University

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