Americans in Paris exhibition review — the artists who blossomed in the postwar freedom of France
Financial Times, March 20, 2024

New York’s Grey Art Museum show adds nuance to the story of how modern art evolved, with works from Joan Mitchell and lesser-known names

By Ariella Budick

The classic story of modern art goes like this: there once was a city called Paris, where the world’s most brilliant artists converged, jostling and mingling into an international avant-garde. Then Hitler’s armies invaded, and everybody left. André Breton, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian and many other luminaries decamped to America so that, by the time the war ended, New York had become the new capital of art.

That narrative isn’t wrong, exactly, but it lacks nuance. Paris in the 1950s was far from dead. Many transplants headed right back there as soon as it was liberated. Demobbed Allied soldiers already in Europe made a beeline for Saint-Germain. American expatriates, so long shut out of the Continent, flowed in, finding the cost of living manageable and the city’s lure unextinguished. Some infiltrated Parisian ateliers and insinuated themselves at café tables alongside Sartre and de Beauvoir.

Americans in Paris, at the Grey Art Museum’s airy new space on Cooper Square, evokes those days of cheap wine, curling cigarette smoke and the scent of postwar freedom.

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Image: Ed Clark, The City, 1952. Acrylic on canvas, 51 x 78 1/2 in. (129.5 x 199.4 cm). Collection of Melanca Clark, Boston. Courtesy Hauser and Wirth © Estate of Ed Clark. Photo: Hollister and Young, Michigan Imaging