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An Audience of Artists

Dada, Neo-Dada, and the Emergence of Abstract Expressionism

The term Neo-Dada surfaced in New York in the late 1950s and was used to characterize young artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns whose art appeared at odds with the serious emotional and painterly interests of the then-dominant movement, Abstract Expressionism. Neo-Dada quickly became the word of choice in the early 1960s to designate experimental art, including assemblage, performance, Pop art, and nascent forms of minimal and conceptual art.

An Audience of Artists turns this time line for the postwar New York art world on its head, presenting a new pedigree for these artistic movements. Drawing on an array of previously unpublished material, Catherine A. Craft reveals that Neo-Dada, far from being a reaction to Abstract Expressionism, actually originated at the heart of that movement’s concerns about viewers, originality, and artists’ debts to the past and one another. Furthermore, she argues, the original Dada movement was not incompatible with Abstract Expressionism. In fact, Dada provided a vital historical reference for artists and critics seeking to come to terms with the radical departure from tradition that Abstract Expressionism seemed to represent. Tracing the activities of artists such as Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, and Jackson Pollock alongside Marcel Duchamp’s renewed embrace of Dada in the late 1940s, Craft composes a subtle exploration of the challenges facing artists trying to work in the wake of a destructive world war and the paintings, objects, writings, and installations that resulted from their efforts.
Providing the first examination of the roots of the Neo-Dada phenomenon, this groundbreaking study significantly reassesses the histories of these three movements and offers new ways of understanding the broader issues related to the development of modern art.

336 pages | 6 color plates, 38 halftones | 8 1/2 x 11 | © 2012

Art: American Art, Art Criticism


An Audience of Artists goes a long way toward finally clarifying the networks of contacts both within specific avant-garde circles in America and among them. It helps us understand what Duchamp thought of the painters who came to fame toward the end of his career—and how his reactions to these artists clarified his own artistic identity. Finally, this book fills a gap in the scholarship by placing Abstract Expressionism in relationship to the postwar strategies of Dada, rather than in terms of Surrealism and the unconscious. Craft’s study of Motherwell’s Dada anthology is especially enlightening as a microcosm of all varieties of interchange.”

Janine Mileaf, Swarthmore College

An Audience of Artists is elegantly written and deeply pondered, with an analytical sophistication and emotional sensitivity that gets under the skin of cultural history and the forces that change art. Catherine Craft knows how history feels. She presents documentation with an interpretive skill that causes a reader to sense past events as if they were just occurring. Craft’s visual description is no less convincingly vivid. It is exciting to read this innovative study. I found myself rereading it, not only for edification but for the intellectual pleasure of it.”

Richard Shiff, University of Texas at Austin

 “This well-written, engaging book . . . [focuses] on the circumstances and relationships that fostered [neo-Dada’s] development.”


 “Craft makes the rather compelling argument that through its reception of Dada, the New York School was able to map its own position within a previously populated modernist terrain. . . . Such a claim offers a valuable counter to the narratives of American modernism as holed up in the privacy of its own thoughts and reproductive of post-war narratives of American hegemony and individualism.”

Art History

“[Craft’s] performance is engagingly instructive and, at its most compelling moments, full of compassionate insight.”

Art in America

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

I.  Past Time
1.  Marcel Duchamp’s Audience of Artists
2.  Expressions of Dadaism
II.  Robert Motherwell and The Dada Painters and Poets
3.  Layers    
4.  A Clearer Image
III. The Dada Strain
5.  An Anti-Dada Attitude    
6.  Nothing Really New    
7.  Robert Motherwell: Discovery and Invention    
8.  Jackson Pollock: Deny, Ignore, Destroy    
9.  Barnett Newman: The Moment of Communion    

IV. The Neo-Dadaists
10.  Fellow Painters    
11.  Standards and Measures
12.  The Final End of Art    

V. Marcel Duchamp and the Dada Spirit
13.  Dada’s Daddy    
14.  Wayward    

Conclusion: Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly at the Stable Gallery    


Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award
Honorable Mention

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