Abstract Expressionism and its Legacy

PRESS RELEASE
Abstract Expressionism and Its Legacy
October 6–November 5, 2011
On view at Spanierman Gallery, LLC
Gallery Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30-5:30
Contact: Gina Greer (ginagreer@spanierman.com)

John Little - Phobos, 1958

John Little, "Phobos," 1958, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Spanierman Gallery is pleased to announce the opening on October 6, 2011 of Abstract Expressionism and Its Legacy, presenting a group of paintings reflective of the period when Abstract Expressionism was in its formative years.  This was a time when American artists faced existential dilemmas in the aftermath of World War II and the escalating Cold War arms race. The works evoke the artists’ belief in action painting as a means of embodying freedom. In this manner, they reacted against totalitarianism, old rules, and the devastations of the atomic bomb and the recent war. Taking risks in their work, artists sought to step into the unknown, giving rise to a new idiom. As the noted critic Harold Rosenberg wrote in Artnews in December 1952: “The big moment came when it was decided to paint . . . Just to paint. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from Value—political, aesthetic, moral.”

John Ferren - Utitled, 1962

John Ferren, "Utitled," 1962, gouache and collage on paper, 26 x 20 inches

During the 1930s, when American Regionalism and Social Realism predominated, a number of American artists held to abstract methods, working primarily in hard-edge geometric styles stemming from Cubism, Neoplasticism, and Constructivism. It was not until the late 1940s that the gestural methods and freeform approach of Jackson Pollock and other artists began to emerge, signifying the radical new art and philosophical stance. While many of the innovative modes that arose were spurred by the arrival of European artist-emigrés, fleeing their war-torn homelands, others sprang sui generis from the exhilarating intellectual milieu generated by the artists and critics who gathered in Greenwich Village. Several of the artists made the transition from an earlier linear mode to the new action-painting methods, among them Rolph Scarlett and Gertrude Glass Greene. Scarlett, who had met Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky in Europe in the 1930s, was among the first American artists to develop a  nonobjective style. In the 1950s, he turned from his structured designs of the late 1930s and 1940s—avidly collected by Hilla Rebay for the Museum of Non-Objective Museum)—to produce works such as Black, White, and Gray with Sand Drip (1950s), in which he flung and dripped sand-embedded pigment into a decentered composition, suggestive of the theme of free will seeking escape from confinement. Exposed to progressive currents in Europe during the 1920s, Greene was a pioneering figure in the development of American geometric abstraction and a founder of the American Abstract Artists. In the 1950s, she brought an organic emphasis to her Cubist-based images such as Structure and Space (1951), using a palette knife to create a sense of movement and energy that was new in her work.

Perle Fine - Black on Yellow, 1952

Perle Fine, "Black on Yellow," 1952, oil on canvas, 23 x 30 inches

Abstract Expressionism has often been considered a masculine style that women could not fully achieve. Nonetheless, several women directly witnessed and played important roles in the era’s gestalt, demonstrating a presence to which scholars are today giving recognition. Among them, Perle Fine was at the center of the movement throughout her career. She studied with Hans Hofmann, participated in exhibitions at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, was a member of the elite artists’ gatherings at The Club, showed her work at major galleries that promoted the avant-garde (including those of Nierendorf, Betty Parsons, and Tanager), and was close to many of the leading Abstract Expressionists, such as Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Ad Reinhardt. In The Forest (1949), Fine denied the completeness of her shapes, creating a dynamic interplay between form and space that evokes a mystical state of being. Mary Abbott was another early exponent of Abstract Expressionism. One of few women to attend the short-lived experimental school, called The Subject of the Artist School (which fostered the careers of Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell), as well as also a member of The Club, Abbott did not curtail her art due to ideas as to how women should paint. She created explosively electric images such as Mr. Lee (1950).

Judith Godwin - Polar Night, 1994

Judith Godwin, "Polar Night," 1994, bristle brush and oil on canvas, 52 x 72 inches

Abstract Expressionism provided a means by which artists could define their identities through the distinctiveness of their brush marks. Such a quest is apparent in Stephen Pace’s Untitled (55-31) (1955), in which strokes of charcoal gray battle for dominance over iridescent blues and reds. In John Little’s Phobos (1958) broad brush movements seem to be in a violent contest, with no single color or stroke predominating. Little perhaps sought to evoke the Greek god named in the title, a personification of the fear brought on by war (Little served in the Navy during World War II). Both Pace and Little studied with Hofmann. Pace was a long-time friend of Milton Avery, and Little was a neighbor and friend of Pollock and Lee Krasner in Springs, East Hampton. John Ferren, who was close to Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and John Helion while living in Paris in the early 1930s, also joined the Springs community around Pollock in the late 1950s. His distinctive Abstract Expressionist style, in which he considered the movement and complexity within simple, subtly shifting colors and nuanced brush handling, reflects his exploration of Eastern philosophy.

While some artists of the era believed that it was only through nonobjective expression that an artist could venture into a new world, one without borders or limits, others felt that the natural world could continue to provide the basis for creative exploration within an abstract forum. Such a broadminded attitude characterized Betty Parsons, a leading and legendary dealer of the day whose wide-ranging stable of artists included “giants,” such as Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, and less prominent figures working in many different styles. Herself an artist throughout her life, Parsons drew from the rich plethora of the art she showed in her gallery in her own work, while using a vibrant palette and a flexible technique to interpret the spirit of places she experienced in her many travels, as in Blue Field (1957). Ideology was also not a barrier for Charlotte Park (wife of James Brooks and a friend of Pollock and Krasner), who developed a dynamic, effervescent approach to express a wide emotional range. In Zachary (ca. 1955), she used modulated hues, cursive, undulating lines, and floating forms that call to mind the natural world without being specifically referential.

A number of artists have continued the Abstract Expressionist tradition, using its painterly language as well as following its mission, to venture beyond the known and to explore the precarious nature of reality. Among them, Judith Godwin, who also studied with Hofmann and was a close friend of Kline and Brooks, paints with emotionally expressive color and line, conveying complex feelings, inner tensions, and a struggle for self-awareness. Her Pink Sky Pond (1960) reveals a mood of lyricism disrupted by intonations of dissension. Frank Bowling (a native of British Guyana), who has been honored by his election to the Royal Academy, London and by being made an officer in the Order of the British Empire by the Queen of England (O.B.E.), delves through his heavily worked surfaced paintings into a realm between associative impressions and abstract objectivity—the latter advocated by Clement Greenberg, with whom Bowling carried on a Socratic dialogue in the 1970s. In Kaieteurfow (1980), the vision of Abstract Expressionism is present in Bowling’s many discrete adjustments to the surface, which create a sense of unleashed and variable time, both immediate and cosmic.

Often described in terms of its revolutionary stylistic features, Abstract Expressionism was also a way of thinking and looking at the world and the self. For artists then and now, its methods and ideals have spawned an unbounded range of creative results. Of the artists of his era, Rosenberg wrote in 1952: “The American vanguard painter took to the white expanse of the canvas as Melville’s Ishmael took to the sea. On the one hand, a desperate recognition of moral and intellectual exhaustion; on the other, the exhilaration of an adventure over depths in which he might find reflected the true image of his identity.” Such exhilaration can be felt in these powerful, sensuous, and evocative works.

Burgoyne Diller: Pioneer of Minimalism—Drawings and Collages

PRESS RELEASE
Burgoyne Diller: Pioneer of Minimalism—Drawings and Collages
October 6–November 5, 2011
Gallery Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30-5:30
Contact: Alice Hammond (alicehammond@spanierman.com)

Burgoyne Diller - Untitled (Second Theme), 1964

Burgoyne Diller, "Untitled (Second Theme)," 1964, graphite and crayon on paper, 10-7/8 x 8-1/8 inches

Spanierman Modern is pleased to announce the opening on October 6, 2011 of Burgoyne Diller: Pioneer of Minimalism—Drawings and Collages.  Including works created from the mid-1930s through the mid-1960s, this exhibition demonstrates the precise and skillful technique with which Burgoyne Diller (1906-1965) created the drawings and collages that he produced throughout his career.  Rendered as independent works, these dynamic geometric images stand on their own and reveal Diller’s contribution to the rise of the Minimalist movement.  The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, including full-color illustrations of the works on view, and an essay by Ina Prinz, Ph.D., director of the Arithmeum, Bonn, Germany, and the author of a forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Diller’s works, which builds on her doctoral dissertation on the artist of 2004.  The catalogue is available for $15 from the gallery.

Burgoyne Diller - Untitled, ca. 1934

Burgoyne Diller, "Untitled," ca. 1934, tempera on paper, 16-1/8 x 21-1/8 inches

In his painting and sculpture, Burgoyne Diller made a critical contribution to the development of abstraction in America, but the trajectory of his ideological and aesthetic exploration is best revealed in the drawings he produced throughout his career.  For Diller, drawing was the forum to think through his questions and evolving ideas, and he worked in a more fluid manner than in the other mediums for which his process was extremely painstaking, consisting of many stages of preparation and execution.

The practice of ongoing drawing was advocated by Diller’s teacher Hans Hofmann, whose motto was: “drawing is the daily bread of the artist.”  Hofmann instilled in Diller a belief in the importance each decision can make in a drawing; Diller recorded his teacher’s statement that “a millimeter in the drawing may mean a mile in difference in the effect.”  Following this adage, Diller merged a spontaneous process in his drawings, with one in which he carefully considered the ramifications of each nuance of shape and tone in a design, resulting in works that are elegant and inventive.  Diller’s drawings and collages have received scholarly attention over the years, yet Dr. Prinz is the first to authoritatively catalogue these works and clarify their aesthetic properties.  Her contribution to the catalogue, including an overview of Diller’s biography, and a specific analysis of each work in the exhibition, provides a new understanding of this artist who held a pivotal role in both the promotion of abstract art in America and in the adaptation of the tenets of European modernism to an American abstract idiom.

Melville Price: Paintings—1960s

PRESS RELEASE
Melville Price: Paintings—1960s
October 6 – November 5, 2011

Gallery Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30-5:30
Contacts: Martha Campbell (mcampbell@spanierman.com)

Melville Price, Holiday, 1964

Melville Price, "Holiday," 1964, oil and mixed media on canvas, 51 x 41 inches

Spanierman Modern is pleased to announce the opening on October 6, 2011 of Melville Price: Paintings1960s. Featuring works in which Price combined Abstract Expressionist methods with a Pop Art sensibility, this exhibition reveals the artist’s astute awareness of contemporary experience during a tumultuous decade, while demonstrating his considerable skill as both an abstract and representational painter.

Throughout his career, Melville Price was an artist of great intensity for whom painting was a constant means of revelation and exploration. His art of the 1940s and ’50s was edgy and eclectic, demonstrating his deep understanding of the visual lexicon of modernity. He was held in esteem by his mentor, Joseph Stella, his close friend, Franz Kline, and his circle of artist colleagues, including Willem de Kooning, Conrad Marca-Relli, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers, and Esteban Vincente. During this time, Price was among the group of artists to gather at the Cedar Street Tavern in Greenwich Village. He also participated in The Club, the intellectual center of the New York School, led by Kline and de Kooning. Price was included in group exhibitions at the Hugo, Bodley, Charlie Egan, and Peridot galleries (he had several solo exhibitions at Peridot).

Melville Price, USA, 1967

Melville Price, "USA," 1967, magna, oil and mixed media on canvas, 81 x 61 inches

In 1951, Melville Price began to teach part time at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, while keeping his studio in Manhattan.  In 1954, he closed his New York studio and moved to Philadelphia, where he continued to teach and brought in Kline as a fellow instructor. Four years later, Price went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a one-year position as artist-in-residence.  He retained this job for the thirteen years that followed, until his untimely death in 1970.

Price’s distance from New York afforded him the chance to follow his own path. Yet, his mixed-media images of the 1960s, featured in this exhibition, reveal his full awareness of the art of this decade, as he responded to the dazzling stimuli of modern mass society and its mechanized environment. Robert Rauschenberg is the artist of the era with whom his imagery is the closest, and works such as Price’s Holiday (1964) can be related to some of Rauschenberg’s silkscreen paintings of the same years.  However, Price did not try to step back from his engagement in the design and creative process as did many Pop artists, who sought to obscure their own handiwork.  Merging gestural strokes, drips, academic methods, and biomorphic shapes, Price built dynamically balanced compositions and textural surfaces.

Americana appears in a number of Price’s works such as USA (1967), as he, like other artists of his time, challenged patriotic symbols and the status quo at time of the Vietnam War—Price and his second wife Barbara Gillette Price were very active politically, including marching with Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965, and reacting against the injustice and inhumanity in the South during the 1960s. By including letters, numbers, commercial signs, newspaper and magazine clippings, cartoon blow ups (such as huge red lips), and brightly colored, almost psychedelic patterns, Price captured a sense of the passing world during a time of social upheaval.  In several paintings, he featured the female form as a means of posing questions about identity and association, as in his enigmatic, The Lady and The Lion series of 1967.  Through his original way of representing the era that he lived, Price reacted against its pervasive media hype, ultimately conveying his belief in the freeing nature of creative expression and its power to transcend a homogenized culture.

Melville Price’s work may be found in many notable private and public collections including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia, Charleston; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Fayette Art Museum, Alabama; Greenville County Museum of Art, South Carolina; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Sarah Moody Gallery, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Rockford Art Museum, Illinois; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago; and the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky.

Frank Bowling, RA, O.B.E., Book Signing

Reception and book signing by the artist
Tuesday, October 4, 2011 from 6 to 8 p.m.

RSVP to elizabethruebush@spanierman.com
For further information please contact:
Martha Campbell (mcampbell@spanierman.com)

Frank Bowling monograph by Mel Gooding

"Frank Bowling," monograph by Mel Gooding

Spanierman Modern is pleased to announce that Frank Bowling, RA, O.B.E., will be at the gallery on October 4, 2011 from 6 to 8 p.m. to sign copies of the new monograph about his work by professor, art writer, critic, and curator, Mel Gooding. Published by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, the 160-page book is lavishly illustrated and covers Bowling’s career to the resent. Addressing Bowling’s life, methods, and the poetic nature of his art, Gooding attests to the fact that Bowling is one of the finest artists to emerge from the artists’ circles of New York and London in recent decades. The book, entitled Frank Bowling, is available through the gallery for $45; New York residents, please add sales tax.

Frank Bowling - Oddysseus's Footfalls, 1982

Frank Bowling, "Oddysseus's Footfalls," 1982, acrylic on canvas, 93-1/4 x 70 inches

Frank Bowling has received and is continuing to receive an exceptional amount of  attention and acclaim. He is the first black artist in history to be elected to the Royal Academy, London, and he was honored in 2008 with the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) for his service to art. This year, two important shows of Bowling’s work were held: in May, the Royal Academy, London, opened Journeyings, an exhibition of Bowling’s recent works on paper that closes October 23; from late August through early September, he was prominently featured in RCA Black, an exhibition held at the Royal College of Art Students Union, which was organized by the college in collaboration with the African and African Caribbean Design Diaspora. Next year, Bowling will be honored with more notable shows: his paintings will be included in a group exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, opening in April 2012, and his art will be on display at the Tate Gallery, London from April through November 2012. Spanierman Modern will hold an exhibition in April of Bowling’s new work to coincide with these two shows.

“With his recent flurry of exhibitions, Frank Bowling is taking London by storm,” began Stephanie Cotela Tanner in an article on Bowling posted in August on the website artrabbit.com.  For Tanner’s discussion of Bowling’s career, including an interview with him, visit http://www.artrabbit.com/uk/features/features/august_2011/frank_bowling

Dan Christensen Paintings at 499 Park Ave.

Dan Christensen - 0, 1968

Dan Christensen, "O," 1968, acrylic on canvas, 108 x 144 inches

On view through December 29, 2011

The Lobby Gallery, 499 Park Avenue
at 59th Street

499 Park Avenue and Hines, through their exhibition program, actively contribute to the cultural community as an expression of ongoing commitment to excellence in the visual arts and architecture. This exhibition features four paintings by Dan Christensen along with works by Friedel Dzubas.

Artists of the East End

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Artists of the East End

September 8 – October 1, 2011
Gallery Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30-5:30

Charlotte Park - Untitled (Red, White, and Green)

Charlotte Park, "Untitled (Red, White, and Green)," oil on paper mounted on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

Spanierman Gallery is pleased to announce the opening on Thursday, September 8, 2011 of Artists of the East End, featuring works created from the mid-twentieth century to the present by artists who have lived and worked on eastern Long Island.  The longest intact artists’ colony in America, the East End of Long Island has been a gathering place for artists since the mid-nineteenth century.  Buoyed by this long history, the area’s sustained appeal is due primarily to two factors: its intense beauty, comprising its distinctive brilliant light and a coastal landscape of extreme variety, and its close connection to the avant-garde art and literary circles of New York City.   Comfortable among like-minded colleagues, artists have always felt free to experiment on the East End, producing a vast array of works, including many of landmark significance.

John Ferren - SKI, 1952

John Ferren, "SKI," 1952, oil on canvas, 47-1/4 x 36 inches

Of the waves of artists who have made their way to eastern Long Island, John Little and John Ferren belong to the circle that formed around Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in the mid-twentieth century.  Little frequently visited Pollock and Krasner in Springs, East Hampton, before 1948, when he moved next door to them, purchasing Duck Creek Farm, a house and barn.  In the following year, Little was included along with them in the first annual Artists of the Region exhibition at Guild Hall in East Hampton.  A two-man show of the work of Pollock and Little was held at the same venue in 1957.  Painting with bold gestures, Little explored the “inter-vibration” of areas of color, gradually developing a flattening of his paint layers and a use of white to give breathing space to explosive arrangements such as Akiton (1973).  John Ferren, who was close to Picasso, Miró, and John Helion while living in Paris in the early 1930s, evolved an Abstract Expressionist style in the early 1950s, a time when he was an active member of The Club, the intellectual center of the New York School that was led by Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.  Ski (1952) reflects Ferren’s continued exploration of Eastern philosophy, in which he considered the movement and complexity within simple, subtly shifting colors and varied brush handling.  In 1958 he bought property in Springs, joining the growing community around Pollock.

Betty Parsons - Flying Duck

Betty Parsons, "Flying Duck," 1981, mixed media on wood, 34 x 21 x 1 inches

As an art dealer with a rare perspicacity, Betty Parsons held ground-breaking shows for many avant-garde artists including Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still.  Also a dedicated artist in her own right, Parsons painted and sculpted throughout her life, creating a body of work that is today garnering significant attention.  Parsons began to work on Long Island after receiving an unexpected inheritance in 1959 that enabled her to purchase land on a cliff overlooking the sea in Southold, on the North Fork of the East End. In Southold, she painted as well as created constructions from the wood scraps she found on the beach, combining them into witty structures that evoke anthropomorphic associations.

Charlotte Park is another woman artist from the Abstract Expressionist era whose work is receiving long overdue recognition.  She was married in 1947 to the artist James Brooks and knew Pollock and Krasner from that time forward, renting a New York studio in a space where they had lived and joining them in establishing studios on Long Island, first in Montauk, and then in Springs.  Park launched her own version of Abstract Expressionism in the early 1950s, achieving radiance in works such as an untitled painting from this time in which shapes are inextricably interwound. Rich cursive lines and Park’s favorite crimson-orange palette produce an allover surface that evokes the splendor of a medieval floral tapestry.  Such paintings have prompted critics recently to describe Park’s work as a “revelation” and to praise her as a “great colorist,” while observing her “extremely refined understanding of compositional structure.”

Theodore Stamos - Willow, 1950

Theodore Stamos, "Willow," 1950, oil on masonite, 23-1/2 x 17-7/8 inches

An important member of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists, Theodore Stamos was renowned for the passion and originality of his vision.  A firm believer in the role of nature in the creation of a work of art, he sought to capture “the idea of a thing,” making his emotions visible, as in Willow (1950), a reflective image in muted tones that is suggestive of geologic and marine life.  Stamos settled on the North Fork of Long Island in the town of East Marion in about 1951.

A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, David Budd moved in 1954 to New York City. There he studied at the Art Students League and joined fellow artists at the Cedar Street Tavern, including Pollock, Kline, and de Kooning.   Soon thereafter he began to spend summers in East Hampton, where he became an active part of the community of artists on the East End.  Influenced by Pollock in particular, Budd developed a style blending a lyrical sensibility with a powerful gestural handling created through a liberal use of the palette knife.  His approach of the time (before his departure in 1962 for a decade in Europe) is demonstrated in The Creeks (1958), named for the estate of Alfonso Ossorio in East Hampton, which was a popular gathering place for artists in the 1950s.

Dan Christensen, an artist associated with the Color Field movement, had a relentless desire to experiment with tools and pictorial space, as he expanded the limits, range, and possibilities of paint and form through both systematic and spontaneous methods. The noted critic Clement Greenberg wrote in 1990: “Dan Christensen is one of the painters on whom the course of American art depends.”  Inspired initially by the work of Pollock, Christensen was part of a group of young artists who revived painting after a period in which minimalism had prevailed.  His Pale Rumor (1968) demonstrates his early use of the spray paint gun to create shimmering allover surface effects.  Christensen had a long association with the East End, which he began visiting in the mid-1960s.  He was living full-time in Springs with his wife, Elaine Grove, at the time of his death in 2007.

Frank Wimberley - Nile Crest, 1990

Frank Wimberley - "Nile Crest," 1990, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 44 inches

Of the contemporary artists who continue to find contentment on the East End, Frank Wimberley is among the best known.  A resident of New York City and Sag Harbor, he is esteemed by his fellow artists for his masterly abstractions, consisting of unusual manipulations of paint, color, and texture.  Dragging and compressing paint, often using a large spatula to allow underpainting to escape through the surface, Wimberley references Abstract Expressionism’s optical intensity, as in sensuous images such as Nile Crest (1990).  His paintings draw on the improvisational qualities of jazz music and the crystalline waterways of the South Fork.  At the 72nd Annual Artists Members Exhibition at Guild Hall (East Hampton) in 2010, Wimberley was awarded top honors and a future show, which will take place at Guild Hall in 2012.

Carol Hunt relies on color and gesture to produce openly expressive paintings filled with dynamically interactive bold strokes.  Often deriving her inspiration from her surroundings on Long Island’s East End (she lives in Southampton), her images evoke fleeting visual thoughts jotted down for later analysis.  Verbally expressive without specific words, images such as Improvisation 16 (2008) are both self-revelatory and speak to the collective unconscious in their evocation of archetypal forms.

Elaine Grove - Hammer Head, 2011

Elaine Grove - "Hammer Head," 2011, steel and wood, 22 x 20 x 9 inches

Carrying on the tradition of the welded steel constructions of Picasso, David Smith, Julio Gonzales, and Anthony Caro, Elaine Grove creates sculptural “drawings in space” in which metal forms appear animated from within. Residing in Springs, Grove incorporates “found objects” into her work, but her focus is on their shapes and relations in space rather than their original purpose.  Witty resonances and puns reside in her inventive constructions, which are often commentaries on society.

Stephen Pace: Abstract Expressionist

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Stephen Pace: Abstract Expressionist

September 8 – October 1, 2011
Gallery Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30-5:30

Stephen Pace - Untitled (59-06), 1959

Stephen Pace, "Untitled (59-06)," 1959, oil on canvas, 80 x 66 inches

Spanierman Modern is pleased to announce the opening on September 8, 2011 of Stephen Pace: Abstract Expressionist, presenting a group of large-scale paintings by Stephen Pace (1918-2010), dating from the 1950s through the early 1960s, representing the bold and direct freedom of thought and action that characterized this exhilarating time in American art and culture.  The exhibition is accompanied by a thirty-two page catalogue with color illustrations of the twenty-one works in the show and an essay by Lisa N. Peters, Ph.D. (available for $30 plus $3 for shipping).

Stephen Pace - Untitled (62-12), 1962

Stephen Pace, "Untitled (62-12)," 1962, oil on canvas, 68 x 53 inches

Originally from Charleston, Missouri, and raised in Missouri and Indiana, Pace arrived in New York in 1947. There he found himself at the epicenter of a dynamic milieu of debate and innovation and discovered that the trajectory occurring spontaneously within his own art resonated with that at the forefront of the New York School.  Associating with Franz Kline at the Cedar Street Tavern in Greenwich Village, reconnecting with Milton Avery (whom he had met a year earlier in Mexico) and the circle around Avery of abstract-minded artists such as Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, and studying with students of Hans Hofmann, as well as with Hofmann himself, Pace quickly gained a position of significance within the group of younger artists coming to the fore, including Joan Mitchell, Alfred Leslie, Michael Goldberg, Grace Hartigan, Milton Resnick, and Helen Frankenthaler.  Scraping and manipulating thick pigment with muscular and gestural strokes, while controlling form according to relational design issues stemming from Cubism, Pace explored the theme of freedom and its limits.

Stephen Pace - Autumn (59-02), 1959

Stephen Pace, "Autumn (59-02)," 1959, oil on canvas, 75 x 83 inches

The suddenness of Stephen Pace’s emergence on the New York art scene was given recognition by the noted critic and leading voice of the New York School, Thomas B. Hess, who chose Pace for a two-person traveling museum exhibition in 1961 (with George McNeil), stating in the show’s catalogue:  “Pace is a brilliant member of the second generation of New York School painters that burst on the scene in the early 1950s, fully made, as if from the forehead of the Statue of Liberty.”  Hofmann, who had called Pace one of his most promising students in a 1959 article in Look magazine, provided a statement for the catalogue, sending his “most sincere congratulations to such magnificent choices in great contemporary talents,” and calling McNeil and Pace “two remarkable painters with great plastic imagination and immense vitality and inventiveness in the realm of color.” Hess observed: “Pace appears to think and to feel at the same time; he is a ‘natural’ who makes the tradition work for him; he does not question his useable past.”  Hess concluded: “The continuing production [of the two artists] confirms the presence and gravity of our brave new school.”

Stephen Pace’s work was widely praised by the New York press when he had exhibitions at Artists, Poindexter, and Howard Wise Galleries.  Writing for The Sun (Baltimore) in 1957, Kenneth Sawyer acknowledged that Pace’s art had “prompted critical huzzahs from the vanguard,” going on to recognize that Pace’s paintings “contained “the resonance of an entire mnemonic scale, a quality both profound and satisfying in the rigorous sense.”  In the New York Times in 1960, Dore Ashton described Pace’s paintings—on view at Wise’s Gallery—as “abstractions in which energetic elements battle their way to equilibrium,” commenting: “no matter how baroque Mr. Pace’s compositions are—and they are nearly all fretted with tilting and bucking forms—they do, ultimately come to rest.”

The exhibition demonstrates the broad emotional range often recognized as characterizing Pace’s art, from the tempestuous Autumn (1959) to pensive, subtly toned images from 1951 and 1952, to the moody, densely filled Dark Painting (1952), to images of 1962 in which Pace’s strokes merge with the ground, conveying a striving for openness.  Later in the 1960s, Pace shifted his art in a figurative direction similar to that of Avery. This exhibition’s focus positions Pace within the heightened period in which Abstract Expressionism was at its peak, affording many strands of cross-fertilization as artists explored issues of existence and identity action painting.