“Abstract Expressionism,” this fall’s much-heralded survey at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, is informative, extravagant, and also problematic—a list of characteristics that is perhaps inevitable, given the vast, unruly subject it deals with.1 In his catalogue essay and sharply honed wall texts, the independent art historian David Anfam, who organized the show with Edith Devaney, the Contemporary Curator of the RA, describes Abstract Expressionism not as a coherent movement but as “a phenomenon.” The exhibition strives to illuminate the defining attributes of the phenomenon while simultaneously suggesting alternative readings. The result is at once exhilarating and exasperating,...


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