This major study offers a new understanding of the aesthetics and politics of postwar European and American art. Questioning the widespread assumption that the most innovative practices were non-representational, it shows how a powerful realist impulse operated alongside a strong commitment to abstraction. Alex Potts makes the case that the ambition to create work that engaged with the everyday and political realities of the world motivated much of the period’s vital experimentation with medium and artistic process.

Experiments in Modern Realism is a refreshingly unorthodox account of the artistic and political impulses shaping the diverse practices that emerged in mid-20th century art. The wide variety of both canonical and lesser-known work it features ranges from free-form paintings by Dubuffet and De Kooning and assemblages by Rauschenberg and Fahlström to actions and happenings by Beuys and Kaprow. Engaging the fields of history, literature, politics, cultural theory, and art history, this book is a remarkably probing analysis of postwar art from one of the most important voices in art history today.

Alex Potts’ work on art and artistic theory covers a number of areas - sculptural aesthetics and the history of sculpture, experimental practices and the aesthetics of realism in twentieth-century art, art and artistic theory in the nineteenth century, and Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment conceptions of the classical ideal. His main publication on the latter was his book Flesh and the Ideal. Winckelmann and the Origins of Art History (1994). In addition to the book The Sculptural Imagination: Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist (2000), his work on sculpture includes a co-edited anthology of texts on modern sculpture, The Modern Sculpture Reader (2007; reissued 2012), and articles on David Smith, Alberto Giacometti and other twentieth-century sculptors. In his more recent research he has been arguing for the larger significance of experimental forms of realism in post-war European and American art. This was the subject of the Slade Lectures in Fine Art he gave at the University of Oxford in 2008 and of the Kirk Varnedoe Memorial Lectures at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 2009, and also of his book, Experiments in Modern Realism: World Making, Politics and the Everyday in Postwar European and American Art. In his current project, he is exploring ways in which political commitment informed conceptions of naturalism and realism as well as more abstract forms of representation in the art of the late-nineteenth and earlier-twentieth centuries.