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Post-War American Art

Willem de Kooning
Nude Figure–Woman on the Beach, 1963
Oil on paper, mounted on canvas
81.3 x 67.3 cm (32 x 26.5 in.)
© 2018 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. SchulhofCollection, bequest of Hannelore B. Schulhof, 2012

Following World War II, the United States experienced an economic boom, becoming a world leader in industry and innovation. The art world was also transformed as many European artists fled to America, bringing with them their avant-garde ideas and techniques. New York City emerged as a new center for artistic expression, with the Abstract Expressionist movement gaining prominence in the 1950s. Artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning created large, gestural paintings that emphasized the physicality of the creative process. The movement was characterized by a rejection of traditional forms, a focus on the artist's subconscious, and an emphasis on the act of painting itself.

In the 1960s, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns produced groundbreaking artworks that blurred the lines between art and everyday life by incorporating everyday or found objects and materials. Their approach to art-making is often linked with the Neo-Dada movement, which aimed to push the boundaries of traditional art forms and embrace chance and randomness. This movement opened the door for Pop Art, which emerged later in the decade. Pop Art, characterized by its use of popular culture imagery and bright colors, was a reflection of the consumer culture of the time. The works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, among others, became iconic and household names in the art world, solidifying the movement's impact on contemporary art.

Roy Lichtenstein
Whaam!, 1963
Acrylic paint and oil paint on canvas
Support: 172.7 x 406.4 cm (68 x 160 in.)
Frame: 174.7 x 408.4 x 6 cm (68.8 x 160.8 x 2.4 in.)
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
Tate, London

The 1970s saw the emergence of Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Minimalism focused on the use of simple, geometric forms and industrial materials, while Conceptual Art emphasized the idea or concept behind the artwork over its aesthetic qualities. Artists such as Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt became prominent figures in the Minimalist movement, while artists such as Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner became known for their use of language and text in art.

In addition to New York City, Los Angeles also emerged as a significant center for artistic expression in the post-war period. In the 1950s and 1960s, artists in LA were experimenting with new styles and techniques, including assemblage, ceramics, and assemblage sculpture. These artists were often associated with the movement known as West Coast or California Funk art, which emphasized the use of non-traditional materials and techniques, as well as a sense of humor and irreverence. Some notable artists associated with West Coast art include Edward Kienholz and Robert Arneson.

James Turrell
Virga, 1974
Natural and fluorescent light
Site-specific dimensions; room: 373.4 x 445 x 943 cm (147 x 175.2 x 371.3 in.); skylight: 2 cuts, each 447 x 30 cm (176 x 11.8 in.)
© James Turrell
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Panza Collection, Gift, 1992, on permanent loan to Fondo per l'Ambiente Italiano

Another important movement in LA during this period was the Light and Space movement, which focused on the sensory experience of art and incorporated materials such as glass, neon, and plastics to create immersive and experiential installations. Artists associated with the Light and Space movement include Robert Irwin and James Turrell. These artists sought to create an experience that went beyond the traditional boundaries of art and incorporated the viewer into the artwork itself.

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Color Field Painting


Conceptual Art

Pop Art

Unconsciousness / Subconsciousness


American Abstract Expressionism



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20th Century Art


Art of the 1970s

Oil Paint

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Art of the 1960s

Art after World War II

Gestural Abstraction

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