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Abstract Expressionism
by Gary Comenas

abstract expressionism

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1935

More than 100,000 paintings and murals and about 18,000 sculptures would be created under the Federal Art Project of the WPA. (LM17)

Milton Avery joins the F. Valentine Dudensing Gallery. Willem de Kooning meets Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby. Arshile Gorky and Stuart Davis are included in "Abstract Painting in America" at the Whitney Museum. Jackson Pollock paints a lewd mural. Jackson Pollock exhibits for the first time at a museum. Adolph Gottlieb attends "African Negro Art" at The Museum of Modern Art. Arshile Gorky's sister gives birth to Karlen Mooradian. Germany begins military conscription in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Philip Guston appears in Time magazine. The first Writers' Congress takes place. Jackson Pollock's mentor, Thomas Hart Benton, leaves New York. Barnett Newman manages Theater Troupe. First organizational meeting of the American Artists' Congress - Stuart Davis becomes executive secretary and eventually chairman. Barnett Newman studies teaching. Willem de Kooning's mother arrives from Holland. Pierre Laval signs (initials) the Franco-Russian military pact. Franklin Delano Roosevelt begins the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Clyfford Still gets a Master of Fine Arts. Germany signs the Anglo-German naval agreement. Hans Hofmann opens a summer school in Provincetown. Barnett Newman rents a studio on W. 13th Street. Robert Motherwell visits Europe. Adolph Gottlieb visits Paris. The Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) begins. The Popular Front is endorsed. The Federal Art Project is launched. Artists hang out at Stewart's Cafeteria. Charles Pollock moves to Washington, D.C. Jackson Pollock and Arshile Gorky join the Federal Art Project (WPA). Jackson Pollock moves back to 46 E. 8th Street. Philip Guston moves to New York, stays with Jackson Pollock and changes his name. Arshile Gorky exhibits at the Boyer Galleries. Hugh Stix opens the Artists' Gallery (where Adolph Gottlieb would first show his Arizona paintings). Fernand Léger at The Museum of Modern Art. Giorgio de Chirico at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. Franz Kline goes to England. Arshile Gorky exhibits at the Guild Art Gallery. Arshile Gorky dates Mercedes Matter (whose jailmate was Lee Krasner). Vincent van Gogh at The Museum of Modern Art. "American Artists' Congress Exhibition" at the ACA Gallery. Arshile Gorky lectures. Arshile Gorky submits aviation mural designs to the Federal Art Project (WPA). Mark Rothko moves to Great Jones Street. The Ten are formed. Willem de Kooning quits A.S. Beck. Nutsy moves in with Franz Kline. Arshile Gorky exhibits (again) at the Guild Art Gallery. The Ten exhibit at the Montross Gallery. Arshile Gorky exhibits preliminary aviation mural work at the New York Federal Project Gallery.

c. 1935: Milton Avery joins the F. Valentine Dudensing gallery.

From "Milton Avery: The Metaphysics of Color" by Barbara Haskell

"in 1935, his [Milton Avery's] art elicited the praise of the distinguished critic, Henry McBride and the attention of art dealer Valentine Dudensing, who asked Avery to join his gallery. Alliance with Dudensing had a major impact on Avery's career. Not only did Dudensing's support give him a larger measure of financial security than he had known previously, it also placed in him in frequent contact with the work of European artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso whom Valentine also exhibited. Encouraged by their example, Avery extended his experiments with saturated color and simplified form. His color became much bolder as he accentuated the mood of a situation by discarding the constraints of naturalistic hues and favouring a high-key, non-naturalistic palette. The importance he placed on color and formal simplicity inevitably elicited comparisons with the work of Matisse comparisons which incited Avery's annoyance and denials of influence. While the two artists unequivocally shared an aesthetic vision, they did, in fact, differ greatly. The reserved quietude and stillness engendered by Avery's soft, lyrical hues contrasted markedly with the voluptuous hedonism of Matisse's more saturated palette and arabesque detailing. "

Early 1935: Willem de Kooning meets Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby.

Living in the building next to de Kooning's W. 21st Street apartment was Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby who would become de Kooning's earliest champions and collectors. He met them while searching for Marilee (Willem and Juliet 's cat) who had escaped from their apartment onto the fire escape of the building next door. (DK144)

February 1 - 25, 1935: Jackson Pollock exhibits in a museum for the first time.

Jackson Pollock's painting, Threshers (now lost) was included in the "Eighth Exhibition of Watercolors, Pastels, and Drawings by American and French Artists" at the Brooklyn Museum. (JP75/PP318) The exhibition also featured work by Thomas Hart Benton and more than a hundred other artists. (JP75)

(Note: Deborah Solomon's biography of Pollock gives the exhibition title as "Eighth Biennial Exhibition of Water Colors, Pastels and Drawings by American and Foreign Artists.")

February 12 - March 22, 1935: "Abstract Painting in America" exhibition at the Whitney Museum.

Four paintings by Arshile Gorky were included: Composition no. 1 [Cat. Rais. No. 67, p. 191] , Composition no. 2, Composition no. 3 [Cat. Rais., No. 78, p. 205], and Organization [Cat. Rais., No. 119, p. 250]. (BA238)

Stuart Davis' work was also included (but not John Graham, Willem de Kooning, Edgar Levy or Mischa Reznikoff.) According to the curator, Lloyd Goodrich, "De Kooning was not known at this time and very influenced. Gorky was far better known... He had the ability to see the abstract in art of all periods, to see in Vermeer's work the same principle of abstract design as he did in his own period." (BA238)

Stuart Davis (from the Introduction to the catalogue):

"Art is not and never was a mirror reflection of nature. All efforts at imitation of nature are foredoomed to failure... We will never try to copy the uncopyable but will seek to establish a material tangibility in our medium which will be a permanent record of an idea or emotion inspired by nature. This being so, we will never again ask the question of painting, 'Is it a good likeness, does it look like the thing it is supposed to represent?' Instead we will ask the question, 'Does this painting which is a defined two-dimensional surface convey to me a direct emotional or ideological stimulus?' " (AI431-34)

February 1935: Jackson Pollock paints a lewd mural.

According to the Jackson Pollock Chronology published by The Museum of Modern Art in Jackson Pollock, in February 1935 "Jackson paints a 'vast, lewd mural in the style of Orozco' on the walls of his studio at 76 West Houston Street." (PP318)

February 25, 1935: Jackson Pollock is hired as a stone cutter.

Pollock transferred from the Home Relief program to the Work Relief program. Initially hired as a stone cutter, he was soon demoted to stone carver helper. His main duty was to clean public monuments around the city. (JP75) He was paid $1.75 an hour. (PP318)

March 18 - May 19, 1935: "African Negro Art" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.

Adolph Gottlieb attended. Gottlieb's interest in African art was fuelled by John Graham who was a connoisseur of African sculpture and was largely responsible for the selection of works in the Frank Crowninshield Collection of African Art. (AG20)

From the Sotheby's catalogue for their African & Oceanic Art auction May 19, 2000
(as quoted at http://www.thecityreview.com/s00tribs.html):

"It was the artist John Graham who was primarily responsible for the range and quality of Frank Crowninshield's collection of African Art. Graham purchased many of the works in Paris, and indeed the content of the collection expressed a strong emphasis on work from the French colonies...."

March 1935: Arshile Gorky's sister, Vartoosh, has a baby. (BA547)

The son was named Karlen. He would later write two books on Gorky published in 1978 and 1980. His 1978 biography, Arshile Gorky Adoian, included a large selection of letters from the artist. In 1998 another biography of Gorky was published by a different author not related to the family - Black Angel, A Life of Arshile Gorky, by Nouritza Matossian. In her book Matossian claimed that 29 of the artist's letters were forgeries. (BA497)

Another biographer of Gorky, Matthew Spender, also claimed that there were problems with the letters. Spender, who married Arshile Gorky's daughter Maro, noted in his book, From a High Place, A Life of Arshile Gorky, that "Studying these documents [the letters] with the help of two Armenian scholars, we came to the conclusion that many of Karlen's translations were figments of his own fantasy of what Gorky was, or what Gorky should have been. They were extensions of the sad, strange conviction which Vartoosh had wished upon him - that his own life was a continuation of her brother's." (MSxxiii) Karlen died in 1990, about a year before Vartoosh.

Vartoosh, Moorad and Karlen stayed with Gorky who sold works at cheap prices in order to buy paint. Bernard Davis bought six paintings for $20 to $30 each. Sydney Janis paid as little as $10. (BA256) When an art supplier, Rosenthal, visited the studio with an IOU for $1,000, Vartoosh pleaded, "Look, I am here and my brother is supporting me and my little baby. My husband has no work." (BA256)

Vartoosh and Moorad held committee meetings in Gorky's studio of the HOK (Hayasdan Oknoutian Komite) Progressive Party, attended by Sarkis Gasparian, Vahan Gasparian and Badrik Selian. Selian recalled that Gorky "was very curious about Soviet Armenia and the Soviet Union" but "was disappointed that the art and sculpture were so backward. He couldn't understand how such a revolutionary country could be so reactionary in art." (BA258)

Vartoosh later recalled one night when, wakened by her baby in the middle of the night, Gorky was sitting in front of a canvas, painting. He explained, "Vartoosh... It came to me that I have to change this line. If I leave it till morning I might forget." (BA259)

March 16, 1935: Germany begins military conscription in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

April 1, 1935: Philip Guston appears in Time Magazine.

The article was about the Mexican mural, The Struggle Against War and Fascism, painted by Guston and Reuben Kadish in 1934. The article, referring to the fresco as "one of the biggest, most effective frescoes in all Mexico" noted that it was "painted not by one of Mexico's famed group of revolutionary muralists, but by a pair of young, talented, enthusiastic U.S. citizens from Los Angeles."

From the Time magazine article:

"The project was started last summer when authorities in Michoacan's state university realized that they had in their museum a huge wall, unbroken except for one small balcony. To Mexican eyes this bare space cried aloud for a great mural such as decorates the main public buildings in Mexico City... Painters Pablo O'Higgins and David Alfaro Siqueiros persuaded the Michoacan University trustees to give this opportunity to two young men one of whom had helped Siqueiros finish a fine fresco in the Workers' Cultural Center in Los Angeles two years before: Reuben Kadish, 21, and Philip Goldstein [Philip Guston], 22.

... The impoverished Michoacan University announced that it could afford to pay the painters' living expenses for only six months. Kadish & Goldstein jumped at the chance, packed up for distant Michoacan, rolled up their sleeves and with only one assistant, 23-year-old 'Itinerant Poet' J. H. Langsner, painted 1,024 sq. ft. of true fresco in the required 180 days.

... The huge wall, when finished, showed with gripping realism dear to the Mexican heart the Workers' Struggle for Liberty. The left half of the main wall depicted nude workers knocking from a ladder... In the centre is the broken-necked body of a hanged woman and above her a hooded and villainous priest. The other half of the wall is given over to the Modern Inquisition. Near the floor is the body of an electrocuted man, realistically rigid. Rising through a trap door are two hooded figures representing the Ku Klux Klan and Nazism. In the extreme upper right, Communists with sickle & hammer are rushing to the rescue. Crowed Patron-Discoverer David Alfaro Siqueiros last week: 'It is my honest belief that Goldstein [Guston] & Kadish are the most promising young painters in either the U.S. or Mexico." (TW)

The article was illustrated with a photograph of Kadish, Guston and Langsner standing in front of the mural.

April 24 - 27, 1935: The first Writers' Congress takes place.

The Congress is referred to by different names in different sources. Many writers simply refer to it as the Writers' Congress. In Black Angel: A Life of Arshile Gorky by Nouritza Matossian, it is called the "First American Writers' Congress of Communist Party Writers." (BA239). In Lewis Mumford's opening speech for the American Artists' Congress (see 1936) he referred to the group behind the Writers' Congress as the American Writers' League. (AA62) According to FBI files, "the League of American Writers was launched by the First Congress of American Revolutionary Writers. The Congress was held in Mecca Temple, New York City, on April 24 through 27, 1935."
(http://www.cla.purdue.edu/people/engl/dblakesley/burke/projects/fbi/fbifiles3.html).

From the introduction to Artists Against War and Fascism: Papers of the First American Artists' Congress by Matthew Baigell & Julia Williams:

"The first Writers' Congress, like earlier antiwar congresses abroad... was not, properly speaking, part of the Popular Front; but it was part of a looser initiative known as the United Front. The United Front was antagonistic to the capitalist democracies, associating them with fascism. It openly supported the Soviet Union and wanted to increase 'the issue of propagandist literature.' In its view, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was on par with Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini. The position of the United Front was clearly expressed in the Party magazine, the Communist, in March 1935. 'The Party's general line in this period is to mobilize the masses against capitalist reaction and fascization, against war preparations, and for the defence of the Soviet Union, on the basis of the united front policy...' The position was reversed abruptly with the institution of the Popular Front in August 1935. The Soviet leadership developed the Popular Front strategy because it believed the war between Germany and Russia had become unavoidable... Through the Popular Front the leadership sought antifascist allies wherever they might be found... This abrupt change of strategy called for working with people and organizations previously considered enemies: with anybody, even anti-Communists, sympathetic to the fight against fascism..." (AA6-7)

April 1935: Thomas Hart Benton leaves New York.

Jackson Pollock's mentor, Thomas Hart Benton had been offered the job of director of the Kansas City Art Institute. (PP318) Benton, who was originally from Missouri, decided to return to the midwest, settling in Kansas City. He had become frustrated with attacks on American Scene painting and the embracement of Communism by artists like Stuart Davis. In the April 1st issue of Art Front, Stuart Davis had referred to Benton as "a petty opportunist... who should have no trouble selling his wares to any fascist government." In the April 15th issue of Art Digest, Benton wrote "Communism is a joke everywhere in the United States except New York." (JP76)

Pollock was devastated by the news that the Bentons were moving. They had been like family to him. According to Manuel Tolegian when the Bentons left, Pollock "was truly a lost soul" who "took to heavy drinking, even spoke to me of suicide a number of times." (JP77)

May 1935: The Theater Troupe, managed by Barnett Newman, performs one-act plays.

Alexander Borodulin was the in-house playwright for the Theater Troupe which performed the one-act plays at the Artef Theatre on 247 West 48th Street.
(http://www.jewish-theatre.com/visitor/article_display.aspx?articleID=200)

Early May 1935: The formation of an artists' congress is discussed.

According to the introduction by Matthew Baigell and Julia Williams in Artists Against War and Fascism: Papers of the First American Artists' Congress, "A week or two after the National Writers' Congress... Alexander Trachtenberg (whom Stuart Davis called 'Comrade Trachtenberg') attended a John Reed Club meeting (which Davis called a 'Club fraction') to discuss the formation of an artists' congress." (AA8)

The source for the information about the meeting of artists mentioned by Baigell and Williams comes from Stuart Davis' penciled notes. According to Virginia Hagelstein Marquardt ("Art on the Political Front in America - From The Liberator to Art Front," Art Journal (Spring 1993)), the John Reed Club had disbanded in 1934 - possibly the reason why Davis referred to the meeting as a 'Club fraction' rather than a regular meeting.

According to Baigell and Williams, a committee of twelve John Reed Club members was formed to consider the formation of an artists' congress. (AA9)

Spring 1935: Barnett Newman takes a teaching class.

Newman took "Teaching Oral English in High School" at the City College of New York. (MH)

Spring 1935: Willem de Kooning's mother arrives from Holland.

De Kooning's mother, Cornelia, was under the impression that her son was married to Nini Diaz based on past correspondence with him. So, before his mother visited, De Kooning (who was actually living with Juliet Browner at the time) rented another apartment with Nini and stayed there with Nini during his mother's visit. However, it eventually came out that not only were de Kooning and Nini not married, there was another woman involved (Juliet) and, to make matters worse, his mother also found out about Nini's previous abortion. (She didn't know that during her stay, de Kooning had made Nini pregnant again, necessitating another abortion - a botched job which left Nini unable to conceive.) (DK120)

May 2, 1935: Pierre Laval initials Franco-Russian military alliance.
(http://www.hungarian-history.hu/lib/eckh/eckh18.htm)

[Note: Serge Guilbaut in How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art states that the Franco-Russian treaty was "signed by Laval in 1936." (SG27)]

May 6, 1935: President Franklin D. Roosevelt announces the formation of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

One of the WPA's subprograms was Federal Project Number One for which $300 million was appropriated for theater, music, writing and the visual arts. Holger Cahill, who favoured representational painting with a predilection for Mexican muralists, was put charge of the visual arts section. (DK121/124)

On August 2, 1935 the Federal Art Project was launched as a subprogram of the WPA in order to further extend work relief to artists. Often the Federal Art Project is simply referred to as the WPA in art histories and biographies.

See The WPA and the Federal Art Project.

May 18, 1935: The first organizational meeting of the American Artists' Congress takes place.

The first organizational meeting of the Congress took place at the studio of Eitaro Ishigaki under the guidance of Alexander Trachtenberg. Twenty artists attended. A second meeting was held on June 10 and a third meeting on June 24. (AA9) Stuart Davis accepted the position of executive secretary and would later become the chairman. Throughout the summer the planning committee met every Friday evening at the ACA Galleries. (AA10)

At the second meeting artists Stuart Davis, George Ault, Hugo Gellert and Louis Lozowick, along with critic Jerome Klein, were asked to draft a "Call of the American Artists' Congress." At the third meeting the Lozowick's draft of the "Call" was rejected for "lacking the qualities of a manifesto" and another committee was formed consisting of Stuart Davis, Aaron Douglas, Hugo Gellert, Ben Shahn William Siegel and a person named appeared as "Schang" but was probably Saul Schary. The new call was approved by early August at which time the organization had grown to fifty-six artists. (AA9) By October, when the call was printed in the October 1st issue of the New Masses, the organization had 114 members. By the time of the first meeting it had 401 members. By 1939 it had over 900 members. (AA10)

1935: Clyfford Still receives a Master of Fine Arts degree from Washington State.

His thirty-four page M.A. thesis was C├ęzanne, A Study in Evaluation. (RO226)

June 18, 1935: Germany signs the Anglo-German naval agreement.

On June 18, 1935, the Germans signed the Anglo-German naval agreement with the British which allowed Germany to increase the size of its Navy to 35% of the size of the Royal Navy in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. When the agreement was signed Hitler commented "Great Britain has in fact renounced her naval influence in the Baltic, a bottle that we Germans can close. The English cannot exercise any control there. We are the masters of the Baltic."
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-German_Naval_Agreement)

Summer 1935: Hans Hofmann opens his summer school in Provincetown. (DK284)

Summer 1935: Clyfford Still spends a second summer painting at Yaddo. (RO225)

Summer 1935: Barnett Newman rents a studio at 234 West 13th Street. (MH)

Summer 1935: Robert Motherwell goes to Europe for the first time.

While still a student at Stanford he spent the summer of 1935 visiting Europe, traveling to France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, England and Scotland (including the town of Motherwell, near Glasgow). (RM)

Robert Motherwell:

"That [the trip to Europe] mainly had to do with my father. After years of struggle finally he was in an established position. He had never himself been to Europe. He was a very classical, traditional Scotsman. He thought it would be a very nice idea to make the grand tour of Europe every five years. He planned it for my mother, my sister and myself. My mother decided that she didn't want to go, that she would rather take her share of the money for the trip and partly remodel our barn in Westport. So my father and my sister and I went. We made the grand tour of Europe starting in Paris and going all the way to Amalfi, all the way up Italy and Switzerland, Germany, the Low Countries, London and ended in Motherwell, Scotland. Then came home again. Then, of course, 1940 would have been the next trip but the war had begun. And by 1943 my father was dead...

My father planned the trip very carefully. We were gone -- I don't know -- two months. We would stay three days in each city. And he did something very intelligent. The first day a car and a driver and a guide would meet us at the hotel and take us all around the city in the morning. Then we would stop and have lunch. The car would pick us up again and either take us to more places or take us back to something that we wanted to see more of. And having done that in one day you had a terrific sense of the whole place, and then at leisure the next couple of days would do what you wanted to do. And, of course, my father was stunned at my knowledge of art. For some reason traveling is mainly looking at art, though most people hate art. But I really liked it and knew about. Often I knew better than the guides what we were looking at. They'd make terrible mistakes. But not speaking any of the languages I couldn't explain to them very well. I couldn't even pronounce some the of the names. So for me it was a feast of the eye and a sense that I still have of Europe of its being much more pleasurable, agreeable, comfortable, and food and wine. My father was a great gourmet, and there's where we really met. He was looking at it from an entirely different standpoint -- he was very interested in agriculture, in the manufacturing, in all modern techniques of doing things, he was also very aware that the war was coming and, as an international banker, he was very concerned about it. So he was looking at Europe all the time economically. I was looking at it all the time aesthetically and humanistically. So that he liked Germany, Switzerland and England, that he didn't get any fake money, and that the bathrooms were clean, that people were well-organized. I liked France and Italy, I mean the food was much better, where the art was much better, and the people were much juicier, the climate was much sunnier, and so on. It was very naive really; it was the Innocents Abroad. But a real revelation." (SR)

Summer 1935: Adolph Gottlieb visits Paris.

While in Paris, Gottlieb bought several pieces of African sculpture from dealers recommended by John Graham. (AG20)

Adolph Gottlieb:

"... in 1935 my wife and I took a trip to Europe and spent a lot of time in Paris. I had some connections there with people who handled primitive art. So I bought a bit, I bought a few pieces. I didn't have much money or else I would have bought a great deal. However, I had been interested in African art long before that because the interest was aroused by the interest the Cubists had in African art and also there were very famous collections that you could see in New York. A friend of mine, John Graham, had a marvelous collection. He was collecting things for Frank Crowninshield. Helped assemble that collection and also did a lot of things I believe for Helena Rubenstein. So I was associated with people who had an intense interest in this matter and I had the opportunity to see very good pieces and I read whatever I could about it so that I became quite familiar with it... I have been buying things on and off ever since." (AS)

July 1935: TRAP is formed.

TRAP, the Treasury Relief Art Project, was initiated with funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Its purpose was to hire five hundred artists to decorate about 1,900 public buildings, mostly post offices. Initially, 90 percent (later 75 percent) of the artists working for TRAP had to first be eligible for relief after being investigated by Emergency Relief Bureau social workers. Applicants had to be unemployed and could not exceed the prescribed allowances of $9.30 a month to feed an adult male and $7.70 a month for a female. After July 1937, participants in the program were also required to be American citizens. (RO119-20)

July 25 - August 1935: The Popular Front is endorsed by Moscow at the Comintern's Seventh Congress.

The official decision to accept the support and alliance of sympathetic groups (such as intellectuals and artists) who were not necessarily Communists to fight against Fascism under a Popular Front was taken at the Comintern's Seventh Congress. However, the idea of a Popular Front was discussed much earlier than the Congress and the Franco-Russian military pact in May 1935 can be seen as a prior example of the Soviet government's relaxation of their previous hardline approach against allying themselves with non-Communists.

August 2, 1935: The Federal Art Project is launched.

The Federal Art Project is often referred to as the WPA (Works Progress Administration) but was actually a subprogram of the WPA which came about after Harry Hopkins, the head of the WPA, argued to extend work relief to artists, perceptively noting that "Hell, [artists] have got to eat just like other people." (DK124)

Willem de Kooning:

"The Project was terribly important. it gave us enough to live on and we could paint what we wanted. It was terrific largely because of its director, Burgoyne Diller. I had to resign after a year because I was an alien, but even in that short time, I changed my attitude toward being an artist. Instead of doing odd jobs and painting on the side, I painted and did odd jobs on the side. My life was the same, but I had a different view of it. I gave up the idea of first making a fortune and then painting in my old age." (IS50)

Not everyone agreed that artists should receive state support. The Hearst press was particularly negative about the Federal Art Project, referring to the artists who participated as "Hobohemian chiselers" and "ingrates." (MM27)

See The WPA and the Federal Art Project

Apart from a guaranteed paycheck, the WPA, along with the Artists' Union, also performed a social function, enabling artists to meet other artists. Willem de Kooning would later say, "The project was so good. It brought us all together in a friendly way." Friday was payday and the artists would collect their checks, attend meetings at the Union and gather at Stewart's Cafeteria located on Twenty-third Street off Seventh Avenue, about two blocks from the Union headquarters. (DK148/IS23)

Joseph Solman, one of the founders of the artists' group known as "The Ten" (which included Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb and John Graham), was also active in the Artists' Union and hung out at Stewart's:

Joseph Solman:

"After meetings at the union we'd go in for coffee and a sandwich or whatever and stay up to about two in the morning... We'd talk about the different phases of art, the shows of Picasso, de Chirico, Klee, the Whitney Museum. And we'd talk about the exciting shows that we saw around the town." (DK129)

Two other artists' hangouts during the 1930s were the Oasis Bar, located across the street from Stewart's and the Horn & Hardart Automat. (DK148)

August 1935: Charles Pollock moves to Washington D.C. from New York.

Jackson Pollock's brother Charles was employed by the Resettlement Administration in Washington D.C. (PP318)

August 1935: Jackson Pollock joins the Federal Art Project.

Both Jackson and his brother Sande joined the mural division of the project. Sande changed his last name to McCoy to avoid the WPA stipulation of only one check per household. (PP318)

Jackson found it difficult to to obey the regulations and deadlines of the Project. Some of his paintings were returned for more work and some were rejected outright. At one point while he was still with the Project, Pollock wrote to his brother Charles in Washington D.C. "... not having much luck with painting. Got my last picture turned back for more time... if it had been a good picture I wouldn't have consented." (JP82-83)

August 1935: Arshile Gorky joins the Federal Art Project.

After being dropped from the Public Works of Art Project on April 29, 1934 Gorky received no federal aid until July 1935 when he applied to the Emergency Relief Bureau and was granted $24 a week. In August he was accepted as a "Master Artist" in the Mural Division of the Federal Art Project at $103.40 a month. This would later be decreased to $91.16 in November 1938 and to $87.60 in July 1939. Holger Cahill, a friend of Gorky, headed the Federal Art Project. Another of his friends, Burgoyne Diller headed the Mural Division. (HH237)

September 1935: Jackson Pollock moves back to 46 East 8th Street.

Jackson Pollock's brother Charles and his wife Elizabeth had vacated the apartment in August when they moved to Washington, D.C. where Charles worked for the Resettlement Administration as a staff artist in the "special skills" division. (His fellow workers included Ben Shahn.) When Charles moved from New York he left his Model T Ford behind so that his brothers could use it.

Jackson had originally lived in the apartment with Charles and Elizabeth when they moved there in April 1933, renting an entire floor for $35. In the autumn of 1935 he moved briefly to a brownstone on 58th Street before returning to 46 East 8th Street after Charles left for Washington, D.C. (PP317/318/JP85)

c. Late September 1935: Philip Guston moves to New York and changes his name.

In a letter to Reuben Kadish dated August 27, 1935 Philip Guston wrote "The best thing that is new with me is that I am going to New York in 3 weeks - about the 20th of September. I saw Tolegian, he is here for a few weeks - and he tells me that I will have a better chance to on the the [Federal Art] project around this time than later in the fall." (DA32-3)

When Guston moved to New York he initially stayed with Jackson Pollock and his brother Sande in their loft at 46 East 8th Street, later moving to a small loft on Christopher Street. (DA34)

During the same year, he changed his name from Phillip Goldstein to Philip Guston.

Musa Mayer [Philip Guston's daughter]:

"As if to underscore this move [to New York]... my father, in 1935, when he was twenty-two, started using the name Guston and spelling his first name with one "l"... Later, deeply ashamed of his act, my father concealed his name change, and asked his biographer Dore Ashton to avoid any reference to it in her book. I didn't know about this change of name until I was in college." (MM22)

After Guston's death in 1980, his wife, also called Musa, told their daughter that "He [Philip] never forgave me" for "making him change his name." She showed their daughter a painting from 1935 on which he was still using his real name. It was signed Phillip Goldstein, 1935.

Musa Mayer:

"My mother showed me the place where, on one of his earliest paintings, Mother and Child from 1930, he had repainted his earlier signature, carefully matching the pigment to conceal the change... Philip's story - as I learned later, from reports of guilty confessions he'd made to friends - was that he'd decided on his own to change his his name, before even meeting her parents, and that my mother had been against it. He'd been certain her parents would accept a Guston more readily than a Goldstein as their son-in-law." (MM229)

After moving to New York, Guston would occasionally return to live with his mother but ultimately had little contact with his family. Guston's daughter, Musa, recalled that she met her grandmother only once. He returned to Los Angeles in 1949 when his mother died and again in 1959 when his sister, Jenny, died. (MM17)

September - October 1935: Arshile Gorky solo exhibition of pen and ink drawings at the Boyer Galleries, Philadelphia. (BA547)

During the exhibition Gorky lectured on abstract painting. According to Dorothy Miller "That awful man Boyer stole a great many drawings from him." (BA240)

September 30 - October 24, 1935: Fernand Léger: Painting and Drawing exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Arshile Gorky attended the exhibition and, according to Anna Walinska, told her that "Léger was one of few artists who reconciled the figurative image, the breaking of space and colour and the line - that linear element ties them all together." (BA243)

c. 1935: Hugh Stix opens the Artists' Gallery.

It was at Stix's gallery that Adolph Gottlieb first showed his semi-abstract Arizona desert paintings in 1940 - considered to be precursors to his Surrealist pictographs. Stix celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his gallery in 1955 by selling unsigned drawings by established artists among the work of relatively unknown artists and refused to tell any of the potential buyers which drawings were by which artists. All were sold at the same price - $25.

From "One for the Show," Time magazine, September 26, 1955:

"To all outward appearances, the owner of Manhattan's Artists' Gallery was behaving last week like the Madman Muntz of the art dealers' world. On the walls of his Lexington Avenue walkup were hanging drawings by 204 artists. Side by side with relative unknowns were works by such top U.S. moderns as Lyonel Feininger, William Baziotes, William Cropper, Philip Evergood and Josef Albers worth up to $250. Each drawing was marked at a flat $25. The only hitch: on none of the drawings was the artist's signature visible, and the gallery refused to say who had drawn what. The bargain show was just another way for the gallery's businessman-founder, Hugh Stix, 48, a former Harvard Fine Arts honor graduate and now a full-time wholesale grocer, to underline his credo: "Somebody has to like art for what it is, not just for the artist's name.'

... Among New York City's 150-odd art galleries, Hugh Stix's Artists' Gallery is unique. Running it as a nonprofit venture, Stix reverses the traditional art dealer's one-for-the-money, two-for-the-show policy, hangs pictures and takes no commission, shows mainly unknowns, and does everything in his power to pass along his discoveries to other dealers. All the drawings in the current show were donated by grateful alumni or well-wishers to celebrate the opening of the gallery's 20th season.

Stix started his gallery in a Greenwich Village loft during the Depression. His aim was to help out artists who, then as now, were galleryless. The opening was a shock: with 500 invitations out and 72 chilled martinis and Manhattans ordered up from the bar downstairs, Stix sweated through 2½ hours before his first—and only—guest showed up. The guest turned out to be an artist wanting a show for his watercolors. But today the gallery is a must for art critics and gallery owners on the hunt for dark horses...

Over the years, Stix has started more than 100 artists, including Adolph Gottlieb, Ben-Zion, Ad Reinhardt, James Lechay and Richard Pousette-Dart, on their ways to regular dealers."

c. October 1935: "26 Works by Giorgio de Chirico" exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery. (BA243)

October 13, 1935: Franz Kline arrives in England.

Franz Kline left Boston, traveling to England by boat. On board the S.S. Georgic (second class) he met Frank Hahn. After docking at Southampton Hahn and Kline made their way to London, renting a flat on Belsize Crescent in the London borough of Camden. (FK176)

Franz Kline [1961]:

"My mother was English. I'd hoped to go to England and then on to study in Paris, but I never got to Paris at that time. As a matter of fact, last year [1960] was the first time I ever went to Paris or the Continent." (KK153)

Kline applied for British citizenship while in the country but in order to qualify he had to establish residence there for eight years without working. While in England he worked briefly as a display artist at Selfridges (see September 1937) and also earned a little from commissions. In 1937 he was commissioned to make copies of portraits by Edmund Havell by his (Klein's) future in-laws. Kline reproduced the works, including the artist's signature and date. The subjects were the grandparents of his future father-in-law. (FK166n38)

Soon after arriving in England, Kline acquired a book by an English caricaturist, Phil May's ABC (London, 1897). The following year, on August 10, 1936, Kline wrote to a fellow art student in Boston that "By now I have ten books on him [May], some first editions, so you see I still have Old Phil in the blood." Several of May's books were also found in Kline's studio after his death in 1962. (FK166n34)

From Franz Kline by Harry F. Gaugh (NY: Abbeville Press, 1985):

"Kline's favorite pen and ink artist was Phil May (Phillip William May, 1864 - 1903), an English draftsman whose drawings he had first admired in Boston. He talked often in London about May and [Charles Samuel] Keene, but believed May the greater artist because with a single stroke, rather than cross-hatching, he could convey the shape and shadow of a form. Kline collected books filled with reproductions of May's drawings of seedy old men, dowdy ladies, and street ruffians. He also received three original May pencil drawings as gifts from his former high school English teacher, Mathilda A. Roedel, who visited him in London." (FK33)

October 1935: Arshile Gorky exhibits at the Guild Art Gallery at 37 West 57th Street.

The exhibition included fourteen drawings and four paintings, including Enigmatic Triptych, Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia, Composition and Detail for Mural. Katherine Dreier of the Société Anonyme purchased one of the Nighttime, Enigma, Nostalgia drawings. (BA243-244)

The New York Times (October 13, 1935) reported, "Archile Gorky's handsome abstract decoration... may be said to dominate the show." (BA242)

Anna Walinska [owner of the gallery]:

"He [Gorky] was full of a rich, warm, manly, serious enthusiasm about life and work. There was no question about the importance of art and what he was doing and how he felt about the other artists and the art world. it was easy to feel alienated at that time, Americana, flag-waving. He would come up and spend time with my Jewish family. He seemed to be a family man." (BA243)

c. October/November 1935: Arshile Gorky dates Mercedes Matter.

According to Willem de Kooning, "Mercedes Matter was his [Gorky's] girlfriend. She was very much with Gorky. Very good painter too." (BA246)

Like Gorky, Mercedes was a WPA artist. According to Gorky's biographer, Nouritza Matossian, Gorky "initiated her [Mercedes Matter] into politics, giving her Lenin and Marx to read." (BA245) However, when Matter invited Gorky to attend a strike with her, he preferred to remain in his studio painting.

Mercedes Carles Matter:

"I went to the strike alone. We got beaten over the head and pushed into a police wagon, driven down Park Avenue past the elegant places I used to go. The police of course denied it, even thought the front page of the newspaper showed them doing it. In court we gave fake names. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse! The judge didn't know the difference." (BA245)

Matter remained politically active and during a stint in jail befriended Lee Krasner - the future wife of Jackson Pollock.

Joan Marder [editor Women's Art Journal]

”Lee [Krasner] was a Trotskyite. Her beliefs landed her in jail where she befriended Mercedes Carles Matter, a fellow artist for the WPA who was having an affair with Arshile Gorky; they would remain friends for life. Mercedes Carles Matter was the daughter of painter Arthur B. Carles. In 1932 she studied with Archipenko and by 1933 began studying with Hans Hoffmann with whom she also had an affair. Lee found acceptance of advanced modernism in Hoffmann’s class. Hoffmann’s highest compliment of a piece of Lee’s work was, “This is so good, it looks as if it had been done by a man.” Through Mercedes Carles Matter, Lee became a member of the American Abstract Artists Union where she met de Kooning, Gorky, and Greenberg. Through Lee Krasner’s connections with Matter, Calder came to see Pollock’s paintings.” (JZ)

Matter later said about Gorky, "He talked about his childhood, almost like chanting poetry, and I didn't know if it was real. As we walked I would look up at the buildings and trees and sky. He looked down at the cracks in the pavement and the road. He would see drawings. He loved lines. Definitely linear." (BA245) She recalled going to the Frick Collection after it opened in December 1935 and that Gorky was particularly taken with Ingres' Comtesse d'Hanssonville, saying "He certainly loved that painting. He must have stood for over an hour." (BA246)

November 4, 1935 - January 5, 1936: "Vincent van Gogh" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.

The exhibition was accompanied by a shrewd publicity campaign focusing on the more melodramatic aspects of the artist's life. The publicity director of the museum would later comment "we played the van Gogh show like a polo game - dribbled the ball down the field first, and then, bang, right between the goal posts! It was a honey, if I do say so myself." The show attracted more than 140,000 visitors during its New York run and about another 750,000 visitors while traveling to other museums in the U.S. (RO139) Time magazine referred to the show as a "smash hit." (TM)

November 10 - 23, 1935: "American Artists' Congress Exhibition" at the ACA (American Contemporary Art) Gallery. (AA279)

Although the actual Artists' Congress would not take place until February 1936, this exhibition gave the group a chance to proselytise for members to the Congress. The catalogue for the exhibition included a "Call" for participation by artists to join the Congress. This original Call for participation included text that was later deleted from the official Call as issued by the Congress.

Text from the original Call that was later deleted:

"The Artists' Congress, to be held in New York City, February 15, 1936, will have as its objective the formation of such an organization. Discussion at the Congress will include the following:

Fascism and war, racial discrimination; preservation of civil liberties; imprisonment of revolutionary artists and writers; federal, state, and municipal art projects; municipal art gallery and center; federal art bill; rental of pictures; the art schools during the crisis; museum policy in the depression; subject matter in art; esthetic directions, relations of media and material to art content; art criticism.

We artists who have signed, representing all sections of the United States, ask you to show your solidarity with us by signing this Call and by participating in the Congress." (AA278)

November 24, 1935: Arshile Gorky gives a lecture, Methods, Purposes and Significance of Abstract Art, at the Guild Art Gallery. (BA244)

Late November 1935: Franz Kline moves to Bayswater.

Franz Kline and his flatmate, Frank Hahn, who Kline had met on the boat trip from the U.S., were evicted from the flat they had taken in Belsize Crescent for taking too many nighttime baths in the oversized bathtub in the flat. They found new accommodation at 28 Queensborough Terrace in the Bayswater area of London. (FK176)

Late November or December 1, 1935: Arshile Gorky submits preliminary studies to the Federal Art Project (WPA).

Burgoyne Diller, head of the Mural Division of the Federal Art Project, assigned Arshile Gorky to do sketches for a mural about aviation for the Administration Building of Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. Diller wanted the mural to incorporate enlargements of photographs of airplanes and airports by Wyatt Davis. (HH264) The regional director of the WPA/FAP gave specific instructions for the artwork for the airport: "photo-murals and mural paintings will be based on the depiction of forms which evolved from aerodynamic limitations." The subject matter was to be based on "early legends and stories of man's aspiration to fly in a romantic period," portraying "the first attempts to build flying machine, through a combination of painted and photo-murals." (BA249/517) Gorky ignored the stipulations. Rather than doing a realistic representation of early aeronautic history, he wanted to give the viewer a sense of the sensation of flying despite the fact that he had never actually been in an airplane.

Gorky, accompanied by Wyatt Davis, visited an airplane factory, Republic Aviation, in Farmingdale, Long Island in preparation for the sketches. The result was the sketches/collage he submitted to the FAP/WPA prior to December 2, 1935. Another, more conservative muralist, Eugene Chodorow had also submitted work to be considered. (BA249/HH264)

Peter Busa [fellow WPA artist]:

"He [Gorky] approached the mural like a natural, mechanical drawing, like a lofting drawing, getting the fuselage and fairing in the lines. Took an aspect of the wing and an aspect of the rudder. He used that proportion like Cubists did, showing you top elevation, front view and end view. If you see the various sections, it's not a realistic plane, but sections which were taken from the lofting." (BA250)

Busa later recalled a favourite phrase of Gorky's: "Anything that's artificial is closer to art. Not the useful object but the useless object." (BA249)

On December 2, 1935 Audrey McMahon, the regional director for the Federal Art Project/WPA wrote to Alfred Barr for his opinion about Gorky's and Chodorow's proposals for the mural and Barr preferred Gorky's saying that, "with its photo-montage" it would be "far livelier and more interesting." (HH264) McMahon wrote to to Barr three weeks later saying that the City Art Commission had not yet taken any action regarding Gorky's proposals but that his sketch (sometimes referred to as collage) and a small print of his photo mural project would be in an exhibition at the Federal Art Project Gallery - "Murals for Public Buildings" - to open on December 27, 1935. (HH265)

December 1, 1935: Mark Rothko and his wife move to Great Jones Street in Greenwich Village from Park Place in Brooklyn.

On his naturalization application Rothko indicated that he had been living at 100 Great Jones Street since December 1, 1935. (RO589n65) The address also appears on his TRAP papers from May 1937. (RO141/589n61). It was also the address listed for Rothko in the catalogue for the 2nd Annual Exhibition of the American Artists Congress in the spring of 1938.

Late 1935: "The Ten" are formed.

see The Ten: Nine Artists in Search of a Cause

Late 1935: Willem de Kooning quits A.S. Beck to devote himself to art.

The Federal Art Project (through the WPA) enabled de Kooning to make the move. Without a job he would be considered impoverished and eligible for a salary through the Federal Art Project. (DK122)

It was while he was working for the Federal Art Project that de Kooning probably first met the art critic, Harold Rosenberg. According to de Kooning's biographers "Unlike [Clement] Greenberg, Rosenberg genuinely liked most artists." (DK222) De Kooning was probably introduced to Harold Rosenberg by Ibram Lassow who at the time was sharing a downtown loft with Max Spivak who was working on a large mural for the WPA. One of Spivak's assistants on the mural was Harold Rosenberg:

Ibram Lassow:

"Harold would be sitting in an old Morris easy chair next to the great big pot-bellied stove. In those days, that's how we had to heat the space. He'd be reading. We didn't care. We knew he was a writer and respected his opinions. Every once in a while he'd expostulate: 'Did you ever hear anything more stupid than this?' He'd be reading a book by Stalin. He was so anti-Stalinist." (DK222-23)

In 1938, Rosenberg would become the national arts editor of the WPA's American Guide series. (DK223) Approximately four years later a book of his poems was published titled Trance Above the Streets. During the late forties and fifties, when Rosenberg established his reputation for art criticism, he visited de Kooning regularly in his studio - "three or four times a week" according to de Kooning's biographers. (DK223)

December 1935: Nutsy moves in with Franz Kline.

Martha ("Nutsy") Kinney arrived in London and moved in with Kline and Frank Hahn in their Bayswater flat. (FK176)

December 1935 - January 5, 1936: Arshile Gorky exhibits (again) at the Guild Art Gallery at 37 West 57th Street.

Howard Devree [The New York Times (December 22, 1935)]:

"Most of the present group of drawings are simply numbered and treated, rightly, as rather powerful compositions in rhythm and arrangement. The affixing of such titles as Night Time Nostalgia to others certainly does them no service. All bear witness to the artist's vigorous and personal draftsmanship. They are neither mere decorative essays nor are they mere geometric patterns, but serious attempts to express certain spatial and linear relationships." (NN)

December 16, 1935 - January 4, 1936: "The Ten: An Independent Group" at the Montross Gallery.

The exhibition at the Montross Gallery (at 785 Fifth Avenue) was the first by The Ten. Each of the nine members of showed four paintings.

Howard Devree [The New York Times (December 25, 1935)]:

"Perhaps they [The Ten] can be loosely grouped as 'expressionists'... While wishing them full measure of success in their efforts to be individual, I personally feel that there is much needless obscurity and reasonless distortion in most of the work, rather than any striking originality... Here and there are notes reminiscent of Klee, Rouault or the less geometrical abstractionists. Most of the pictures, moreover, seem to me to have no such paint quality, drawing, compositional appeal or message as to demand for them very serious attention." (NN)

see The Ten: Nine Artists in Search of a Cause

December 27, 1935: The New York Federal Project Gallery opens.

The gallery was located at 7 East 38th Street. (BA249/517n6) The inaugural show was "Murals for Public Buildings." It included Gorky's studies (referred to in various sources as collage, photomontage and/or gouaches) for the Floyd Bennett Field aviation mural (see Late November/December 1 above). The opening was attended by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

From From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky by Matthew Spender:

"Not far along in his tour of inspection, Mayor La Guardia stopped in front of a sketch for a mural intended for the College of the City of New York. The title was simply Abstraction. The artist who painted it was Albert Swinden, a Canadian living in New York...

'What is that?' the mayor asked. Mrs. McMahon replied that it was a design for a mural. Mayor La Guardia said he couldn't tell what it was... 'If that's art,' he said firmly, 'I belong to Tammany Hall.'

Clearly he intended the joke to be picked up and published by a reporter from the New York Herald Tribune, who was standing behind him... According to the reporter, Mrs. McMahon immediately 'took the Mayor in hand' and led him to a nice, figurative piece of work... Meanwhile, she quickly sent an assistant downstairs to look for an artist capable of defending the position of abstractionists.

The assistant came back with Gorky... Without hesitation, Gorky gave the mayor and his team the same lecture he had already delivered three times publicly within the past two months. An abstract painter, he said, did not use 'old-fashioned' colors. He 'tried to show all sides of an object at the same time, and viewed a round ball as flat.' This is the reporter's succinct version, not necessarily accurate but certainly condensed... The mayor 'wrinkled his brow,' mollified but unconvinced. 'I'm a conservative in my art, as I am a progressive in my politics,' he said. 'That's why I perhaps cannot understand it.'

... The story immediately went the rounds of the cafes and bars where downtown artists met. It became a legend, and as with all legends, the details of the incident were twisted in the telling. The design for a mural which the mayor had so disliked became, in the new version, Gorky's. The devastating remark 'If that's art, I belong to Tammany Hall,' had been aimed at Gorky." (MS147-9)

According to Gorky biographer Nouritza Matossian in Black Angel: The Life of Arshile Gorky (based on an account by Peter Busa who was at the opening) La Guardia, upon meeting Gorky, said "Oh, you look like Stalin!" When Gorky explained his [Gorky's] murals, La Guardia replied "If this is art, then I'm a horse's ass," adding "I am a conservative in art as I am a progressive in my politics. That's why, perhaps, I cannot understand it." Gorky replied, "Mayor, you know about politics. But I know about art!" (BA250)

Not long after the exhibition, Gorky's mural project was reassigned from the Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn to the newly completed Administration Building at Newark Airport. Burgoyne Diller later recalled that the reason for the reassignment was Mayor La Guardia's negative response to Gorky's abstract work as reported in the press. (HH267)

to 1936

abstract expressionism

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