This was the title given to a major exhibition of American painting organized by Clement Greenberg at the County Museum of Art, Los Angeles in 1964. The use of the phrase ‘painterly’ derived from Heinrich Wolfflin’s ‘malerisch’, and was used by Greenberg in relation to a group of artists who broke away from abstract-expressionism.
Resisting the gestural brushwork of that style, these ‘New Abstractionists” compositions are rationally planned and executed in unmodulated areas of color, eschewing illusionism and relief surfaces.
Post-painterly abstraction is a term created by art critic Clement Greenberg as the title for an exhibit he curated for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1964, which subsequently travelled to the Walker Art Center and the Art Gallery of Toronto.
Greenberg had perceived that there was a new movement in painting that derived from the abstract expressionism of the 1940s and 1950s but “favored openness or clarity” as opposed to the dense painterly surfaces of that painting style. The 31 artists in the exhibition included Walter Darby Bannard, Jack Bush, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Friedel Dzubas, Paul Feeley, John Ferren, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Sam Gilliam, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Nicholas Krushenick, Alexander Liberman, Morris Louis, Arthur Fortescue McKay, Howard Mehring, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Ray Parker, David Simpson, Albert Stadler, Frank Stella, Mason Wells, Emerson Woelffer, and a number of other American and Canadian artists who were becoming well known in the 1960s.
Among the prior generation of contemporary artists, Barnett Newman has been singled out as one who anticipated “some of the characteristics of post-painterly abstraction.”
As painting continued to move in different directions, initially away from abstract expressionism, powered by the spirit of innovation of the time, the term “post-painterly abstraction”, which had obtained some currency in the 1960s, was gradually supplanted by minimalism, hard-edge painting, lyrical abstraction, and color field painting.