There may be very little left to find out about the Abstract Expressionists, and yet some force keeps attracting writers to the old personalities and disputes, and it’s not just publish-or-perish. Each author sets off into the New York of the Forties and Fifties, passes by the same galleries (Julien Levy, Peggy Guggenheim, Betty Parsons), the same critics (Robert Coates, Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg), the same artists (Gorky, de Kooning, Pollock). One writer distinguishes himself from the other by taking up a formalist or an anti-formalist line, by focusing on biographical facts or political events. Still, they all follow much the same path, and they all more or less end up with what Irving Sandler called, in the irresistible lingo of bestsellerdom, The Triumph of American Painting. Serge Guilbaut’s recent academic bestseller, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art, may be wildly...


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