Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism 1938

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)

Sidney Schectman: "... we rejected what was going on at the Whitney Museum on Eighth Street which had exhibition after exhibition devoted to people like Brackman and Luigi Lucioni and the Blanche pair, Lucille and Arnold, and Alexander Brook. We called it silo art, paintings of barns."

January - February 1938: "Exposition internationale du surréalisme" at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Invitation to the opening of the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme organised by André Breton

January 24, 1938: Peggy Guggenheim opens Guggenheim Jeune in London.

Guggenheim Jeune was Peggy Guggenheim's first attempt at a gallery. She would later open her Art of This Century Gallery in New York in October 1942. (MD150) Her first show at Guggenheim Jeune was a Jean Cocteau one-man exhibition hung by Marcel Duchamp. Her second exhibition was a solo show of work by Wassily Kadinsky. (MD150)

Mary Dearborn, in Peggy Guggenheim, Mistress of Modernism, incorrectly states that Guggenheim's Kadinsky show was the first time his work had been shown in England. It may have been his first solo show but his work had also been included, for instance, in "Abstract and Concrete," a traveling exhibition in 1936 which also included the work of Ben Nicholson, Naum Gabo, Hans (Jean) Arp and Piet Mondrian. ("Abstract and Concrete" too place at the Gallery 41 in Oxford from February 15 to February 22, 1936 before traveling to the University of Liverpool School of Architecture (March 2 - 14, 1936), then Alex Reid and Lefevre, Ltd. in London (April 1936) and the Gordon Fraser Gallery, Cambridge (May 28 - June 13, 1936)). (WK133n116)

Guggenheim Jeune closed in the summer of 1939. Peggy gave a big party on June 22nd for the last show to which she invited the German photographer Gisele Freund to show her slides of artists and writers including James Joyce, Marcel Duchamp and Leonard and Virginia Wolf. (MD184) (Peggy was pregnant at the time and had an abortion not long after.)

1938: Picasso exhibition at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery.

Twenty-one of his paintings are exhibited. (DK137)

January 1938: Barnett Newman fails an exam.

Newman failed the written exam for high school English teachers. He appealed unsuccessfully against the decision. (MH)

February 11, 1938: Franz Kline departs London for the U.S.

Franz Kline departed for the U.S. on the S.S. Washington. Although he traveled third class he managed to eat his meals in the first class section of the boat. (FK33) After returning to the states, Klein visited his family and then worked as a display designer for Oppenheim Collins (a women's clothing store in Buffalo) where he was fired after falling through a bridal window display. (FK35/177)

February 1938: Arshile Gorky paints a Valentine for Leonore Gallet.

Arshile Gorky's new romance was Leonore Gallet who he depicted in Woman with Violin. (BA270)

From Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work by Hayden Herrera:

... Gorky painted a number of flower still-lifes in the late 1930s. Giorgio Cavallon, who was still on hand at 36 Union Square as one of Gorky's WPA assistants, recalled a day when two ladies from Philadelphia brought Gorky fresh flowers and he set to work producing one flower painting after another until the blossoms had drooped and died. He sold one of these for fifty dollars. Another he gave to Gaston de Havenon as a wedding present; Mina Metzger acquired two others... One of Gorky's 1939 flower paintings is inscribed: 'To My Lovely Leonora With Love Arshile 1939.' It was a gift to Leonore Gallet, a tall slender, blue-eyed redhead who played the violin in a symphony orchestra and whose father was a Michigan steel manufacturer. Their love affair began early in 1938 when he made her a valentine painting with doves and a heart contained inside what looks like an apple. Leonore appears in at at least two of Gorky's drawings, once with her violin and once lying in bed with the covers pulled up - likely a sickbed picture.

When Gorky's sixteen-year-old niece, Liberty, visited his studio, Gorky, having informed her that everyone who comes to New York must see the Cloisters, called Leonore to ask her to be Liberty's escort. Liberty was shocked when she first met Leonore, who wore heavy makeup: Gorky had only just given Liberty a lecture about the vulgarity of using cosmetics. (HH302-3)

Helen Sandow [friend of Gorky]:

He was always in love and he used to come and just let it all out to me - how much he loved this person, this girl he went with. She was beautiful. I remember saying to Gorky that all his girlfriends looked like his mother. They were all tall and dark. He was ready to love and to marry Leonore. She was in love with him but her father broke it up. Her father didn't think Gorky was a good catch, and he made it very difficult for her to see Gorky. (HH303)

The last mention by Gorky of Leonore was in a letter to Vartoosh in October 1938: "Don't worry about me I am well and working hard. If ever I get this money I will be with you in April, or else this summer Linora and I will come to you." (HH303)

February 21, 1938: Mark Rothko becomes an American citizen. (RO125)
March 1938: Adolph Gottlieb paints circus performers.

The circus paintings Gottlieb did while still living in the Arizona desert included Circus Girl and Circus Performers. The paintings were inspired by a visiting carnival. (AG22)

March 1938: Barnett Newman fails again.

Barnett Newman again failed the teacher's exam - this time scoring 33% for his watercolour skills. On behalf of the Fine Arts Substitutes Association he launched a protest (with support from Max Weber, Thomas Hart Benton and Rockwell Kent) against the Board of Examiners. He organized an exhibition at the ACA Gallery - "Can We Draw? The Board of Examiner Says - No!" which attracted a lot of press attention. The exhibitors, including Newman and his sister Sarah were allowed to retake the exam but Newman failed again. (MH) Among the works shown at the protest show at the ACA Gallery was Newman's Studio. (MH)

April 28, 1938: Stuart Davis and Raphael Soyer support Moscow Trials.

150 artists (including Raphael Soyer and Stuart Davis, Philip Evergood, Max Weber, Hugo Gellert, William Gropper, Joe Jones) signed a letter supporting the trials which appeared in the April 28th issue of The New Masses and supported "the verdicts in the recent Moscow trials of the trotskyite bakarinite traitors." (SG27)

May 5 - 21, 1938: "The Second Annual Membership Exhibition: American Artists' Congress" takes place at Wanamaker's.

The exhibition took place on the fifth floor gallery of the John Wanamaker department store in New York. (RO586)

Stuart Davis, National Chairman of the Artists' Congress [from the exhibition catalogue]:

Art develops wherever the culture of the people is sufficiently broad to permit it and the resources of modern democratic society hold the potentialities of an artistic culture immeasurably greater than any in history... In contradiction to this conception of art as a particular but integral part of the social structure, there are some artists and critics who prefer to think of art as an isolated activity having its own history which is determined by the talent of an aristocracy of genius throughout the centuries... Such a conception of the meaning of art has no value for the contemporary artist because, ignoring reality, it can offer no real program of artistic and social development and becomes a befogging obstacle in the path of the artist searching for a fruitful direction... fortunately for American art these attitudes - that art is a non-social, absolute category awaiting the life giving touch of occasional genius, or that it is a social function unfortunately doomed by world wide reaction, only to be secretly preserved by martyred artist-priests, are not characteristic attitudes of the great majority of artists

Instead we see an ever widening circle of artists expressing through the programs of the American Artists' Congress, and the various artists' unions, their faith in art and in the possibility of maintaining and extending the democratic conditions in society in which it can develop.

The Second Annual Membership Exhibition of the Artists' Congress is a concrete example of democracy in culture... with the cooperation of the great commercial institution of Wanamaker's...

At the present time our program includes two main points: to work with support groups working against war and the spread of international anti-democratic aggression, and to work toward the permanent establishment of Federal support of the arts, based on the present Federal Arts Projects, which is the only guarantee for the development of a genuine democratic artistic culture in America... (AA292-295)

May 24 - July 31, 1938: "Trois Siecles d'Art aux Etats Unis" exhibition at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris. (BA274)

The exhibition was a survey of three centuries of American art sent by The Museum of The Modern Art to the Jeu de Paume. (HH301)

A painting by Arshile Gorky was included but he was unable to attend the exhibition. He had not yet become an American citizen and re-entry into the U.S. would have been problematic. His latest romance, Leonore Gallet, did go to Paris, however, and wrote to Gorky about the show. According to Hayden Herrera in Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work, Gorky wrote to his sister Vartoosh on April 18, 1938 (before the show opened) about the enthusiastic reception his work had received: "The Paris newspapers liked all my paintings a lot and had written that Arshile Gorghi is the most original-original painter in America." (HH301) In reality he only had one painting (not "all my paintings") in the show and the French reaction to the show varied from lukewarm to scathing. André Villeboeuf wrote in Gringoire, that the "paintings of the so-called avant-garde" in the exhibition betrayed "the germ of academic death." He continued: "here is painting justly styled 'International' without origin, without taste; marked alone by an originality that accentuates the indecency of its arrogance, the puerility of its conceit out of fashion with us in France (This 'international' painting never attracted any but a few complacent snobs). It is distinguished by nothing particularly American." (SG43)

According to Hayden Herrera the Gorky painting in the show was Painting (1936-7). (HH302) According to Nouritza Matossian in Black Angel: A Life of Arshile Gorkyit was Composition. (BA274)

Gorky's painting was reproduced in Cahiers d'art around the time of the exhibition to illustrate the article "L'art contemporain aux Etats-Unis" by James Johnson Sweeney. Gorky wrote enthusiastically to his sister "the painting was published in the best review of art in Paris and in the world, called Cahiers d'Art. You know the one I always used to get in order to see the works of Picasso." (HH302) In his article Sweeney included Gorky in a group of painters (that also included Stuart Davis, Saul Schary and Charles Biederman) who , Sweeney wrote, "give considerable promise of development once they have found sufficient confidence to find new ways of their own." (BA302/Cahiers d'art 13)

May 24 - June 15, 1938: "Federal Art Projects - Murals for the Community" at the Federal Art Gallery, 225 West 57th Street, New York.
Summer 1938 - 1939: Robert Motherwell lives in Europe.

After attending summer school at the University of Grenoble Motherwell rented a studio in Paris from October 1938 to July 1939 and then visited England before returning to the U.S. and enrolling at Columbia University in 1940. (SR)

While in Paris Motherwell had his first solo show at the Raymond Duncan Gallery in Paris in 1939. Referring to the exhibition, Motherwell later commented that "I had a small show in Paris of sort of silly work. you see, then I was very ingrained with what nowadays would be called French intimate painting. I liked very much Matisse, Bonnard, Vuillard, Utrillo, Braque, certain aspects of Picasso." (SR)

Motherwell sailed to the U.S. from England after visiting some Oxford Fellows there that he had met in Grenoble.

Robert Motherwell:

[I went to Grenoble] to learn French and stay in a pension. It was the year of the Munich crisis. A very dramatic summer. And then after summer of learning schoolboy French I went to Paris and lived for a year until the war began... [In England] I visited Oxford. I sailed back to America on the last voyage of the Queen Mary. In Grenoble at the pension where I stayed there were four Oxford Fellows. We all knew that the war was going to start and that they would be in it. In fact all four of them were killed in the first year. It was between terms at Oxford and they invited me to come and spend two weeks before I sailed back to America. It was a very strange, tense, melancholy, beautiful time those two weeks with those four guys...

Looking at it now, and knowing what happened, it was a little bit as though I had spent two weeks in a very luxurious prison with four guys who were under a death sentence, and you talk and behave in an entirely different way from normal human discourse in a circumstance like that. So it was very intense, very real, and very unreal, too. I mean one of the guys wanted to be a jazz musician and thought he might be dead in a year; and was. One was a South African who wanted to be a barrister. It was - I don't know - how do you describe things like that? Maybe it was then that I began to get some of the tragic sense that I have that was rare in America then. Or in Grenoble I went out with a Czech Jewish girl. She received a notice from the Czech government just before the Munich crisis ordering her home. I remember putting her on the train and her weeping. She was a beautiful girl from a great family. I knew I would never see her again, that maybe she'd be dead. And I'm sure she never did survive the war. It was a very funny way to grow up. I mean when the kids now talk about the bomb and so on as though nobody ever lived under the threat of death before... Actually in the late thirties young people in Europe much more inevitable lived under the treat of death than anybody does here. (SR)

June 9, 1938: Jackson Pollock is dismissed from the Federal Art Project.

The reason given for his dismissal was "continued absence." (JP90)

June 12, 1938: Jackson Pollock is admitted into Bloomingdale Asylum.

Now the Westchester Division of New York Hospital in White Plains, the Bloomingdale Asylum as it was then known, was located in a stone mansion on a working farm. Jackson Pollock remained there for about four months while being treated for alcoholism, returning to New York in September. Although the patients were encouraged to participate in the hospital's art program, Pollock avoided painting. Instead he spent time in the hospital's metal shop, making two plates and a bowl with sheets of oxidized copper. (JP91/PP319)

June 1938: Adolph Gottlieb leaves Arizona.

Adolph Gottlieb and wife left Arizona earlier than planned and traveled to Gloucester, Massachusetts where they spent the rest of the summer by the sea, returning to New York in the autumn. (AG22/RO163)

July 25, 1938: André Breton signs Leon Trotsky's manifesto: "Towards a Free Revolutionary Art."

L to R: André Breton, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky in Mexico, 1938
(Photo: Fritz Bach)

The manifesto was published in the Partisan Review in autumn 1938. Although signed by Breton and Diego Rivera, it was actually written by Trotsky according to Breton. (SG32/213) Rivera's name was substituted for Trotsky's name. Breton, who in 1938 was on a lecture tour of Mexico, had been introduced to Trotsky earlier in the year. (AT532/SG32/213)

Trotsky had ended up in Mexico the previous year (1937) after being deported from Russia in 1929 and living in exile first in Turkey and then, in 1933, France (where he was forbidden from traveling to Paris) and finally, in 1935, Norway, After two years in Norway he was put under house arrest and was transferred to Mexico on a freighter. In Mexico he lived for a time with Diego Rivera and and then with Diego's wife Frida Kahlo (with whom Trotsky had an affair). He was murdered in Mexico on August 20, 1940.

Trotsky's manifesto railed against the Soviet Union as much as HItler's Germany.

From "Towards a Free Revolutionary Art:"

Insofar as it originates with an individual, insofar as it brings into play subjective talents to create something which brings about an objective enriching of culture, any philosophical, sociological, scientific or artistic discovery seems to be the fruit of a precious chance, that is to say, the manifestation, more of less spontaneous, of necessity... Specifically, we cannot remain indifferent to the intellectual conditions under which creative activity takes place, nor should we fail to pay all respect to those particular laws which govern intellectual creation.

In the contemporary world we must recognize the ever more widespread destruction of those conditions under which intellectual creation is possible... The regime of Hitler, now that it has rid Germany of all those artists whose work expressed the slightest sympathy for liberty, however superficial, has reduced those who still consent to take up pen or brush to the status of domestic servants of the regime... If reports may be believed, it is the same in the Soviet Union, where Thermidorian reaction is now reaching its climax... True art, which is not content to play variations on ready-made models but rather insists on expressing the inner needs of man and of mankind in its time - true art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society... We recognize that only the social revolution can sweep clean the path for a new culture. If, however, we reject all solidarity with the bureaucracy now in control of the Soviet Union it is precisely because, in our eyes, it represents, not communism, but its most treacherous and dangerous enemy.

The totalitarian regime of the USSR, working through the so-called cultural organizations it controls in other countries, has spread over the entire world a deep twilight hostile to every sort of spiritual value. A twilight of filth and blood in which, disguised as intellectuals and artist, those men steep themselves who have made of servility a career, of lying for pay a custom, and of the palliation of crime a source of pleasure. The official art of Stalinism mirrors with a blatancy unexampled in history their efforts to put a good face on their mercenary profession. (AT533)

Summer 1938: Mark Rothko and his wife move to East 6th Street.

Mark Rothko and Edith moved from Great Jones Street to a brownstone at 313 East 6th Street, near Second Avenue. A small synagogue operated in the basement of the building. (RO147)

Summer 1938: Juliet Browner moves out.

Willem De Kooning's live-in lover, Juliet Browner, moved out of the loft she shared with de Kooning at West 22nd Street and moved into an apartment with Nini Diaz who had been de Kooning's (and Browner's) lover. Browner later moved to California (in 1940) where she met Man Ray who she eventually married. (DK153)

Summer 1938: Yves Tanguy exhibition at Guggenheim Jeune in London.

From Surrealism in Exile by Martica Sawin:

During the summer of 1938, Peggy Guggenheim swept the remarkable Yves Tanguy, with his polished dome of a head sprouting a few unruly tufts of hair, off to England for an exhibition of his work in her gallery. Separated from her husband, the painter Lawrence Vail, Guggenheim, with the guidance of Herbert Read, had began to put together a collection for a museum of twentieth-century art, and, as she detailed unreservedly in her memoirs, had also commenced her collection of artist-lovers, among whom she claimed Tanguy. Returning from England in an unaccustomed state of affluence, Tanguy reportedly threw wads of money at people in cafes.

Both Tanguy's life style, which was basically one of neglect of material needs - he was reputed to live on alcohol and insects - and his art earned him the admiration of the recent recruits to Surrealism, Gordon Onslow Ford, Matta, and Esteban Frances. (SS27)

Summer 1938: Arshile Gorky goes to Provincetown.

Gorky held a Shashlik (shish kebab) party attended by Byron Browne and his wife Rosalind and Lee Krasner who Jackson Pollock would marry in 1945. (BA278-9)

Late Summer: Franz Kline moves to New York.

Klein settled permanently in New York City after being fired from his widow display job (after falling through a window display) in Buffalo. Initially he shared an apartment with Frank Hahn (who he had lived with in London) at 6 Jane Street. In the autumn they moved to 146 Macdougal Street. Kline briefly worked as a window display artist for Arnold Constable and tried to sell illustrations to various magazines including the New Yorker. (FK35)

Autumn 1938: Adolph Gottlieb returns to New York from Massachusetts.

Adolph Gottlieb and his wife settled in Brooklyn Heights at 121 Joralemon Street, formerly the home of Hamilton Fish. They set up an apartment and studio in the premises. (AG22)

September 15 - October 10, 1938: Walt Disney Studio Gouaches for Snow White exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. (MA304)
Late Autumn 1938: Willem de Kooning meets Elaine Fried.

Elaine Fried, 1938
(Photographer unknown)

According to Elaine, she was introduced to de Kooning through her art teacher. According to de Kooning biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, Elaine "spotted de Kooning across a bar" in the late fall of 1938 and "a few days later, a friend took her to his studio." Two years before they met, Elaine had been Robert Jonas' girlfriend who worked with de Kooning at A.S. Beck. At an exhibition of the American Abstract Artists Jonas had told Elaine that the two greatest painters in America were not included in the show - Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky. According to Swan and Stevens, by the time Elaine met de Kooning she was Milton Resnick's girlfriend who was just as enthusiastic about de Kooning as Jonas was, telling her "Bill is going to be the greatest painter in the country." (DK154-155)

Elaine Fried (later de Kooning):

I studied at the school on 34th Street and he [her teacher] said the three greatest painters in America were Arshile Gorky, Bill de Kooning and himself... he introduced me to Bill. Bill and I sort of started going out and he was teaching me. Bill's studio was just one painting on his canvas or maybe a few others. But Gorky overwhelmed me with the sense of profusion. There were paintings all around. Overwhelming, I thought, I have come as the crow flies to the real artists in America. I didn't know any artists, but I just knew there couldn't be anyone better than these guys." (BA300)

Of de Kooning's studio, Elaine later recalled, "It was the cleanest place I ever saw in my life. It had painted gray floors, white walls, one table, one bed, four chairs, one easel, on fantastically good phonograph that cost $800 when he was only making twenty-two dollars a week, and one painting of a man on the easel." (DK155)

The artist Hedda Sterne, who met the couple in 1942, noted that Elaine "once told me that she married Bill because someone told her that he would be the greatest painter. But I didn't believe her. She wasn't that calculating." The artist Janice Biala who met the couple in 1940 thought "Elaine was on the make, you see, but not in the way that some people are who want to marry rich people. She was on the make in the intellectual world. She saw that de Kooning was somebody." (DK155)

See Elaine de Kooning.

October 1938: Arshile Gorky gets a commission for the World's Fair.

Gorky received a commission for murals in the Aviation Building at the World's Fair. Builders had been working in Gorky's studio since the summer, making it difficult for him to work there. He hoped to complete the sketches for his work after they left on October 20th.

Other artists who got commissions for murals and sculptures at the World's Fair included Ilya Boltowsky, Louis Schanker, Byron Browne and Balcomb Greene who worked in the science and education building. Salvador Dali was doing an underwater fantasy. De Kooning was doing a mural for the Hall of Pharmacy. (BA279-280)

October 29, 1938: The New York Times announces the formation of the American Veterans Society of Artists.

The article announced that "an organization consisting of artists who were with the United States forces in the World War" has been formed, including "many of the country's well-known painters, sculptors and graphic artists. Plans are being completed for the first exhibition to be held this coming Spring. Citizens of the United States who formerly fought with the allied armies are also eligible. The present headquarters of the society is the studio of Charles A. Hafner, chairman of the membership committee, 112 West 54th Street."

November 2, 1938: The Whitney Annual opens.

The Whitney Museum of American Art was then located in the Greenwich Village area at 10 West Eighth Street. 109 artists took part in the Annual with each artist contributing one painting (chosen by the artist). Artists included Stuart Davis, Balcomb Greene, Philip Guston, Max Weber, John Sloan, and Jackson Pollock's classmates from Manual Arts High School, Philip Guston and Manuel Tolegian. Guston showed Bombardment which got a full page reproduction in Look magazine. (MM28)

In alphabetical order, the artists who showed in the Annual were:

A.S. Baylinson, Gifford Beal, Saul Berman, Henry Billings, Isabel Bishop, Arnold Blanch, Lucile Blanch, Julius Bloch, Aaron Bohrod, Ilya Bolotowsky, Alexander Brook, Charles Burchfield, George Byron-Browne, Paul Cadmus, Charles Campbell, Jo Cantine, John Carroll, Daniel Celentano, Nicolai Cikovsky, Paul Lewis Clemens, Jon Corbino, Francis Criss, Gladys Rockmore Davis, Stuart Davis, Thomas Donnelly, Guy Pene du Bois, Stephen Etnier, Philip Evergood, Ernest Fiene, Karl E. Fortress, Jared French, Emil Ganso, Charles L. Goeller, Lloyd Goff, Anne Goldthwaite, Douglas Gorsline, Balcomb Greene, William Gropper, George Grosz, Louis Guglielmi, Phillip [sic] Guston, Leon Hartl, Marsden Hartley, Bertram Hartman, Theodore G. Haupt, Eugene Higgins, Peter Hurd, Joe Jones, Mervin Jules, Morris Kantor, Bernard Karfiol, Leon Kelly, Georgina Klitgaard, John Koch, Benjamin Kopman, Leon Kroll, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Richard Lahey, Edward Laning, Lawrence Lebduska, Doris Lee, Julian Levi, Jack Levine, Charles Locke, Molly Luce, Luigi Lucioni, Peppino Mangravite, George Marinko, Kyra Markham, Reginald Marsh, Alice Mason, Henry Mattson, William Ashby McCloy, Eugene McCown, John McCrady, Henry Lee McFee, Paul Mommer, Eugene Morley, C.G. Nelson, Elliot Orr, Waldo Peirce, Albert Pels, George Pickens, Henry Varnum Poor, Gregorio Prestopino, Walter Quirt, Louis Ribak, Samuel Rosenberg, Theodore Roszak, H.D. Rothschild, Katherine Schmidt, Ben Shahn, Raymond Skolfield, John Sloan, Judson Smith, Isaac Soyer, Harry Sternberg, Maurice Sterne, Frederic Taubes, Manuel J. Tolegian, Nahum Tschacbasov, Allen Tucker, James B. Turnbull, Franklin C. Watkins, Max Weber, Bob White, Esther Williams and N. Ziroli Zsissly. (The New York Times, October 29, 1938)

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

to The Ten: Nine Artists in Search of a Cause

The Ten (consisting of a core group of nine artists that included Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko) were protesting the Whitney's selection committee for their Annual and the committee's predilection for figurative scene painting and regionalism - despite the fact that one of The Ten, Ilya Bolotowsky, had a painting in the Annual. (The founder of the Whitney, Gertrude Vanderbilt, was an early advocate of The Eight aka the Ashcan School.) (RO103-4)

Sidney Schectman [Mercury Galleries co-owner]:

... we rejected what was going on at the Whitney Museum on Eighth Street which had exhibition after exhibition devoted to people like Brackman and Luigi Lucioni and the Blanche pair, Lucille and Arnold, and Alexander Brook. We called it silo art, paintings of barns. And we never had any shows like that at the Mercury Gallery which was established at 4 East 8th Street. (BB)

The Mercury Galleries were located on West 8th Street, two doors down from the Whitney. (RO204-5) Schectman had previously owned a gallery at 412 Sixth Avenue - the Art Mart.

Sidney Schectman:

When I say I owned it, it was part of the family interests... It was known as the Art Mart... we formed at that time a group called the Art Mart Association and people could belong for a fee and exhibit. We built racks and had thousands of paintings in the place. It was a huge loft. We carried this through to the Mercury Galleries and formed an association called... the Circuit Art Association which entitled people to join. (BB)

Art was sold for as little as $5 at the Mercury. Schectman's partner at the gallery, Bernard Braddon recalls that "the general policy at that time was to offer these works at prices from $5 to $50... Very important things, but you could put it into context because you could buy a Matisse or a Pascin or Modigliani for $200 or less." Group shows at the gallery included work by Miro, Matisse and Arshile Gorky. (BB)

Bernard Braddon:

We also put on some interesting theme shows. For example, we had a show called Visions of Other Worlds. That was devoted almost half and half to drawings and paintings by the insane who had more than just a curiosity value... The other half being African Art -Visions of Other Worlds. (BB)

Gallery co-owner Schectman recalls that "in this $5 to $50 category" were "a series of very important etchings by Picasso, Masson, Tanguy - in that category, Hayter was in that group, which was put out by a society for the support of the Spanish War of Liberation and signed by Paul L. Wolp with a forward to it. And we paid $12... And that collection ["Solidarity"] is probably worth between $15 and $20 thousand [in 1981].

Bernard Braddon:

... we charged a dollar a month [for artists to belong to the Circuit Art Association] which is nominal and provided us with an enormous reservoir of paintings, prints, drawings, so we could answer almost any demand. If they wanted abstract art, we had it. If they wanted landscapes of mountains, we had it. If they wanted seascapes, we had that, and nudes... In the course of this, we began to foster the artists whom we really enjoyed and came together with The Ten. They liked our concepts, our approach, our appreciation, which as very genuine. And the idea came up... I don't know who first suggested it but, because of the proximity of the Mercury Galleries to the Whitney Museum, the notion of a show of the Whitney dissenters came about... (BB)

The current nine members of The Ten were listed in the exhibition's brochure as Ben-Zion, Ilya Bolotowsky, Adolph Gottlieb, John D. Graham, Louis Harris, Ralph M. Rosenberg, Marcus Rothkowitz (Mark Rothko), Louis Schanker and Joseph Solman. Earl Kerkam also exhibited as a "guest."

Each artist showed two paintings. Adolph Gottlieb showed Pete Machady's Place and Wrestlers. John Graham showed Bull Fight No. 1 and Bull Fight No. 2. Mark Rothko showed Movie Palace and Conversation.

The foreword to the catalogue was written jointly by the gallery owner, Sidney Schectman and his friend who acted as director of the gallery, Bernard Braddon and Mark Rothko. Of Rothko Braddon recalls that "he never smiled." Schectman recalls... "He [Rothko] hated many people. In fact, I think he wrote some things about some people. He was a little like Barnett Newman in a sense." (BB)

From the foreword of the exhibition catalogue:

For four years THE TEN have been exhibiting as an articulate entity... The 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.

See The Ten: Nine Artists in Search of a Cause.

November 21, 1938: "What's Wrong with American Art" is broadcast on WNYC radio.

Bernard Braddon [co-owner Mercury Galleries]:

... we two [Braddon and Sidney Schectman], with the late Louis Harris who at that time was a member of The Ten, went on the air on Station WNYC... This was timed for the exhibition of The Ten: Whitney Dissenters.

Bernard Braddon [reading from the script]:

Four years ago ten progressive artists who shared a distaste for conservatism and a desire for experimentation conceived the idea of exhibiting as a unified articulate group to be known as The Ten. Not long after, one member dropped out, but the have optimistically continued to call themselves The Ten, filling the vacancy at each exhibition with a guest artist... (BB)

November 1938: Jackson Pollock is accepted to the easel division of the Federal Art Project.

Both Jackson and his brother Sande worked on the easel division earning approximately $90 a week. (JP94/PP319)

December 3 - 5, c.1938: The Ten hold an auction.

The auction was held at the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the American League Against War and Fascism at a venue at 85 Clark Street, Brooklyn. Publicity for the auction announced "The '10' will hold an Art Auction Benefit of Spanish Children," promising "paintings, water colors, drawings and prints."

December 5, 1938: Franz Kline marries Elizabeth V. Parsons.

Elizabeth had arrived from England in November and was met at Ellis Island by Kline. They were married in the Church of the Ascension (Episcopal) in New York. Kline's roommate Frank Hahn was the best man. (FK177)

December 1938: Annalee Newman passes exam to teach secretarial skills.

Barnett Newman's wife Annalee passed the exam to teach stenography and typewriting in city schools. (MH)

to 1939

to 1937

Abstract Expressionism

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