Eyes in the Heat: The Question Concerning Abstract Expressionism

Neofetou, Daniel. 2018. Eyes in the Heat: The Question Concerning Abstract Expressionism. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Since the 1970s, revisionist art historians have elaborated how Abstract Expressionism was exhibited abroad by the post-war US establishment in order to characterise the movement, especially on Clement Greenberg’s account, as an artistic correlate to United States’ post-war dominance and worldwide imposition of capitalism. However, in this thesis, drawing on the theoretical resources of Theodor W. Adorno and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I argue that Greenberg’s criticism in fact indicates how Abstract Expressionism stakes a claim against the rule of exchange-value. I interrogate the still prevalent notion that a development which Greenberg would retrospectively identify as a shift from Trotskyism to art-for-art’s-sake in the New York art scene of the ‘30s and ‘40s resulted in a movement, Abstract Expressionism, which lent itself to co-optation by US imperialism. I show that Abstract Expressionism’s deployment in efforts of cultural imperialism was certainly informed by Greenberg’s positioning of it as the pinnacle of the European modernist lineage due to its determinate negation of non-medium-specific elements. However, taking cues from philosopher J.M. Bernstein’s Adornian account of Abstract Expressionism, I then contend that this determinate negation is at the same time the affirmation of particularity delegitimated by capitalism. I then take recourse to both Greenberg’s and the artists’ accounts of their praxis, to show that it entailed a dialectic of construction and mimesis whereby the latter is guided by that which it forms. I then elaborate how, contrary to predominate accounts of Greenberg’s criticism, he in fact indicates the way in which the artworks invite mimetic comportment on the part of spectators, and engage cognition in a manner inextricable from corporeality. I contend that, thus, rather than buttressing the reified pluralism of capitalism, Abstract Expressionism both condemns capitalism’s disregard for corporeal subjects and prefigures the possibility of reconciliation which capitalism debars.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Abstract Expressionism, Clement Greenberg, Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Leon Trotsky, Meyer Schapiro, Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Norman Lewis, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Cold War

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


31 May 2018

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

05 Jul 2018 16:09

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:12



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