Abstract Expressionism

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The Ten: Nine Artists in Search of a Cause

by Gary Comenas

(Scroll down for a complete list of exhibitions by The Ten)

to Late 1935: "The Ten" are formed

January 7, 1936: The Ten at the Municipal Art Gallery

November 5 - 26, 1938: "The Ten: Whitney Dissenters"

The Ten are often presented as a group of artists who split from Robert Godsoe's Gallery Secession after becoming dissatisfied with the gallery. This view is mostly based on interviews given by Ten member Joseph Solman [aka Joseph Solmon] and doesn't agree with the version set forth by another member of The Ten, Jack Kufeld.

According to Solman the artists who formed The Ten became "irritated" with Godsoe when he started showing "silly Surrealist painters" at his gallery.

Joseph Solman:

"I really got acquainted with him [Mark Rothko] at the gallery on 12th Street called the Secession Gallery run by a man named Robert Godsoe who used to put up each month a one man show, one of the members... And he had a lot of romantic and expressionists and a few abstract painters in that gallery. So he'd always have…let's say, the month would have a one man show in the front room; in the back room, one example each of the stable mates. And we chipped in a little for that. It was a little bit cooperative to help if I remember rightly. I don't remember now. I think we chipped in a little bit. But his idea was good, and he took the, you might say, the illegitimates - the painters who couldn't find a gallery who were either a little too dark or too bold or too…you know. How many galleries were there, 16 galleries in the whole town? Most of them handled old masters. So we got to drinking coffee, visiting each other's houses and so forth and so on. And then when Godsoe began to incorporate what we thought were silly Surrealist painters - I mean painters that we thought weren't as devoted to art - we kind of got a little irritated, not because there were so many, although that was a partial reason. He couldn't emphasize or do justice to the dozen or two dozen painters he had there... We began to talk about it, growl about it, and finally we decided to have a meeting at my studio on 15th Street in late '35. I always thought it was '36 until some critic told me he had the data." (JM)

Ten member, Jack (Yankel) Kufeld remembers it differently. According to Kufeld it was Robert Godsoe who actually started The Ten.

Jack Kufeld:

"Bob Godsoe... was an impresario... and he started the group... everybody claimed that they formed The Ten but he's the one that really did. I saw a piece in which Mark [Rothko] and [Adolph] Gottlieb mentioned the fact that they formed The Ten but they didn't. They had nothing to do with the forming; Godsoe was the one who formed it. You know, everybody likes to take credit for something but I'm quite certain that he's the one that was quite responsible for this organization." (JK)

When interviewer Avis Berman pointed out to Kufeld that "according to what has been written... the reason that The Ten formed is some of the artists were getting dissatisfied because of some of the other painters that Godsoe began to show," Kufeld responded by saying that "I think that's a Joe Solman theory. I think it's a romantic idea. And I think basically The Ten happened because of Godsoe and maybe the reasons came later..." (JK) Although Kufeld was unable to explain why, if the group didn't have a problem with Godsoe, they never exhibited at the Secession, it may be that by the time of their first exhibition in December 1935 the Gallery Secession no longer existed. A review of The Ten's debut exhibition at the Montross Gallery in the December 21, 1935 issue of the New York World-Telegram by Emily Genauer, refers to the Secession in the past tense as a "short-lived gallery." A review of the same show in the December 22nd issue of the New York Herald Tribune refers to the Gallery Secession as the "late Gallery Secession."

Around the time The Ten were formed, the city of New York had announced plans for a Municipal Art Gallery to exhibit self-organized groups of ten to fifteen artists. (RO101) The Ten were one of the four groups included in the debut exhibition of gallery when it opened on January 7, 1936. It's possible that the announcement influenced the formation of the group - and may possibly explain why they were called The Ten when, in fact, there were only nine members.

The NY World-Telegram review referred to above also lists the nine original members of The Ten: Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, Adolph Gottlieb, Louis Harris, [Jack] Kufeld, Marcus Rothkowitz [Mark Rothko], Louis Schanker and Joseph Solman. The cast of characters would change slightly during the 4 years The Ten exhibited, but Rothko and would remain with the group until their final exhibition which took place October 23 - November 4, 1939 at the Bonestell Gallery. Although the members had different artistic styles, they were referred to as Expressionists in several reviews.

From "The Ten Are Staging Their First Group Show," New York Post, December 21, 1935:

"Expressionism is relaunched by The Ten (who are nine, but looking for a tenth hand) in their first show as a group at the Montross Gallery... Most of these artists are really not ready to show yet. Louis Schanker and Louis Harris are probably the most developed. Bolotowsky, Tschabasov and Solman look as though they may soon score some direct hits. Rothkowitz [Mark Rothko] still swings pretty wildly. Adolph Gottlieb, Ben-Zion and Kufeld are less interesting. But this is only round one - too early for a decision."

From The New York Times, December 22, 1935:

"A New Group - At the Montross Galleries, until Jan. 4, is an exhibition by "The Ten: An Independent Group." The nine artists represented, each by four paintings, are Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, Adolph Gottlieb, Louis Harris, Kufeld, Marcus Rothkowitz [Mark Rothko], Louis Schanker, Joseph Solman and Tschacbasov, several of whom were members of Robert U. Godsoe's "Gallery Secession" last year. Perhaps they can be loosely grouped as "expressionists." The pictures are mostly such as to give any one with the slightest academic sympathies apoplexy. 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."

By the time of their second show at the Montross the following year, Lee Gatch had replaced Tschacbasov as a member of The Ten.

From "EXPRESSIONISTS," New York American, December 26, 1936:

"The second annual exhibition of paintings by the group of American modernists who call themselves "The Ten" is so much better than their first show... While most of the "The Ten" are expressionists, they do not minimize external appearances in the same degree... Adolph Gottlieb, for instance retains a good bit of realism in order to heighten the force of his satirical treatment... The new member of the group, Lee Gatch, seeks to reconcile realism with the abstract in such a way as to avoid loss to his painting of either spiritual or sensuous quality."

The exhibition that The Ten would become most famous for was "The Ten: Whitney Dissenters" at the Mercury Galleries which opened just three days after the object of their dissension - the Whitney Annual. By the time of the Whitney Dissenters exhibition The Ten were: Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, John Graham, Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, Louis Harris, Joseph Solman, Louis Schanker, Ralph M. Rosenberg and "guest" artist Earl Kerkam. The purpose of their protest was set forth in the introduction to the catalogue.

From the foreword of the exhibition catalogue:

"For four years THE TEN have been exhibiting as an articulate entity... They have been called expressionist, radical, cubist and experimentalist. Actually, they are experimenters by the very nature of their approach, and, consequently, strongly individualistic. Their association has arisen from this community of purpose rather than from any superficial similarity in their work...

A public which has had 'contemporary American art' dogmatically defined for it by museums as a representational art preoccupied with local color has a conception of an art only provincially American and contemporary only in the strictly chronological sense. This is aggravated by a curiously restricted chauvinism which condemns the occasional influence of the cubist and abstractionist innovators while accepting or ignoring the obvious imitations of Titian, Degas, Breughel and Chardin.

The title of this exhibition is designed to call attention to a significant section of art being produced in America... It is a protest against the reputed equivalence of American painting and literal painting."

One of the owners of the Mercury Galleries, Sidney Schectman recalls that when the group was discussing their reasons for the exhibition, it seemed "a little artificial."

Sidney Schectman [Mercury Galleries]:

"We would have meetings in the evening. Every one of them would come... And they would sit in front [of the gallery desk] in a semicircle and what came through to me then very clearly was that they have to do something to counteract the trends of art today... And it appeared then to me that some of it was based upon an idea that, by doing something quite differently from anything else that had been on the scene then, they would be achieving something... They felt then that they must do something about the conditions, and it seemed a little artificial." (BB)

The exhibition caused considerable controversy and publicity for the gallery and Schectman (along with gallery co-owner, Bernard Braddon) suggested to the The Ten that the gallery be used exclusively for their art both "collectively and individually" - the "equivalent of two shows every month." Mark Rothko responded with a letter to them, writing "Gentlemen: I am sorry to inform you that The Ten will not be able to exhibit in your gallery during the rest of the season. Since our exhibition in your gallery, certain problems of reorganization have arisen which have made it necessary to abandon all exhibition activities for the present season. We hope that you will have no difficulty in rearranging the exhibitions for whatever time you had intended to allot us." (BB)

The final exhibition of The Ten took place at the Bonestell Gallery at 106 E. 57 Street - the year after the Whitney Dissenters exhibition - from October 23 to November 4, 1939. By that time Adolph Gottlieb was no longer part of the group. Publicity for the exhibition listed the artists as Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, David Burliuk, Earl Kerkam, Karl Knaths (Guest), Jean Liberte (Guest), Ralph Rosenborg, Marcus Rothkowitz (Mark Rothko), Louis Schanker and Joseph Solman.

back to Late 1935: "The Ten" are formed

Exhibitions of The Ten

December 16, 1935 - January 4, 1936: "The Ten: An Independent Group" at the Montross Gallery, 785 Fifth Avenue, NY

Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, Adolph Gottlieb, Louis Harris, Jack Kufeld, Marcus Rothkowitz [Mark Rothko], Louis Schanker, Joseph Solman, Tschacbasov

January 1936: Municipal Art Gallery (Exhibition and gallery opened January 7, 1936)

November 10 - 24, 1936: Galerie Bonaparte, 12 Rue Bonaparte, Paris, France

December 14, 1936 - January 2, 1937: Montross Gallery

Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, Lee Gatch, Adolph Gottlieb, Louis Harris, Jack Kufeld, Mark Rothkowitz [Mark Rothko], Louis Schanker, Joseph Solman

May 1937: Georgette Passedoit Gallery

Lee Gatch, Adolph Gottlieb, Jack Kufeld, Joseph Solman, Ilya Bolotowsky, Louis Schanker, Ben-Zion, Louis Harris, Mark Rothkowitz [Mark Rothko]

November 5 - 26, 1938: "The Ten: Whitney Dissenters" exhibition at the Mercury Galleries

Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, Adolph Gottlieb, John D. Graham, Louis Harris, Earl Kerkam (guest), Ralph M. Rosenborg, Marcus Rothkowitz [Mark Rothko], Louis Schanker, Joseph Solman.

October 23 - November 4, 1939: Bonestell Gallery

Ben - Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, David Burliuk, Earl Kerkam, Karl Knaths (guest), Jean Liberte (guest), Ralph Rosenborg, Marcus Rothkowitz (Mark Rothko), Louis Shanker, Joseph Solman.

(In addition to the above exhibitions, The Ten held an an exhibition and auction in Brooklyn to benefit Spanish children for the American League Against War and Fascism on December 3rd, 4th and 5th at 85 Clark Street. I have been unable to find a year for the auction - possibly 1938 according to James E.B. Breslin in Mark Rothko: A Biography. (RO586fn24)

back to Late 1935: "The Ten" are formed

January 7, 1936: The Ten at the Municipal Art Gallery

November 5 - 26, 1938: "The Ten: Whitney Dissenters"


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