“American Vanguards” at the Addison Gallery tells how a tiny group of New York friends — Stuart Davis, John Graham, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning “and their circle” — inspired by Picasso and Surrealism, exploded the last ties between Modernist painting and realism as they helped invent American Action Painting between the mid 1920s and mid ’40s.
The triumph of New York School Abstract Expressionism helped the Big Apple supplant Paris as the capital of Western art. But a wall in the exhibit of 1930s paintings of Gloucester, Massachusetts, by Davis and Adolph Gottlieb, hints at a little-noted fact. After New York, Massachusetts might be the most important crossroads in the development of American Modernism.
In the crucial years between 1940 and 1947, when Jackson Pollock made his first drip paintings, stars of the new New York abstraction — Pollock, Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, Franz