Emile de Antonio made this documentary about his friends in New York City who happened to be the abstract expressionist painters who changed the history of art during the post-world war II years. The artists who reacted against the modern art world of Picasso's cubism were a small group who seemed to own the New York art world. Many were immigrants. Many came from poor families. Many earned a lot of money.
"You have to have time to feel sorry for yourself if you're going to be a good abstract expressionist painter," said Robert Rauschenberg.
Helen Frankenthaler explained "I did not want to create a small gesture standing at an easel with a sable brush." She wanted her paintings to appear as if they were created all at once with one stroke. The interviewer asked her if it was a problem being a female painter. She set him straight. "The first issue is a being a painter."
"My paintings are an invitation to look somewhere else," said Jasper Johns. He revealed that his motivation for becoming a artist was simply a way to get out of "this." He added that if he could tell that he was doing what another painter was doing, he would stop doing that.
Andy Warhol remarked "everybody is influenced by everybody." That remains a truism for the post-modern world.
Pop was a reaction against the action painters. A small group of artists began working in a more classical, controlled way. It was less romantic and not at all improvisational.
Frank Stella is interviewed extensively about this shift. He felt that the expressionists original impulse to make a big gesture became compromised when the wildness was worked over too much. His approach was less an invitation and more a presentation. The emphasis was not on "reading" a painting. Rather than make a record of an event, the goal was to present something that left the viewer unable to know how it was made.
The film includes interviews with many more of the era's artists, dealers, and collectors. They look at the reality that painting has always been for the rich. Other artform, such as writing an film, can be enjoyed by the masses. Traditionally painters are able to survive and continue working due to the support of wealthy patrons. The DVD also includes an interview with de Antonio.
The film shows the art world of forty years ago to be fresh in ways no longer possible.