Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
Property of the Robert B. Mayer Family Collection
Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)


Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974)
signed, titled and dated 'Adolph Gottlieb "BALANCE" 1960' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
60 x 90 in. (152.4 x 228.6 cm.)
Painted in 1960.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Mayer, Winnetka, 1966
By descent from the above to the present owner
'A Selection of One Man Shows,' Art International, December 1960.
B. Cummings Mayer, The Passionate Collector: Robert B. Mayer's Adventures in Art, New York, 2011, pp. 72-73 (illustrated in color).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Gottlieb: New Paintings, November-December 1960.
Phoenix Art Museum, The Robert B. Mayer Memorial Loan Collection, September 1991-June 1994.

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Koji Inoue

Lot Essay

From the renowned collection of the late Robert B. Mayer, Adolph Gottlieb's Balance was one of two works that inspired Mayer to begin collecting Abstract Expressionism. Since the 1940s, he had collected primarily works by the European avant-garde, but their soaring prices prompted him to look into more vanguard, contemporary movements. In 1961, the Chicago collector, who later helped to found the city's Museum of Contemporary Art, visited the historic Sidney Janis Gallery in New York to explore new pictures by the premier Abstract Expressionists. He recalled of the experience, "My first reaction to [the style] was one of antipathy... but after several days of exposure, I found an irresistible attraction. I began to understand for the first time why America had emerged as an original artistic contributor...and why the art center had shifted from Paris to New York. On the third day, I bought a Franz Kline and an Adolph Gottlieb." (R. Mayer, quoted in M. Hand, The Passionate Collector: Robert B. Mayer Adventures in Art, New York, 2011, p. 70). That same year, Mayer bought two additional abstracts by Willem de Kooning, initiating his momentous collecting and patronage of post-war art.

Radiating with power and vibrancy, Gottlieb's Balance demonstrates the classic vernacular of his Burst series, expanded to the large, horizontal format of the artist's Imaginary Landscapes. In the 1960 work, the artist suspends his signature red orb above an inky, calligraphic tangle of black paint. Reducing his painted marks to their formal essence, Gottlieb creates an evocatively elemental composition with graphic and chromatic punch. The work's apt title recalls the words of art critic Lawrence Alloway, who said, "Gottlieb's balance of surface and mark, field and gesture, has no parallel among his contemporaries" (L. Alloway, "Adolph Gottlieb and Abstract Painting," Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective, exh. cat., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., p. 54).

In Balance, both compositional elements radiate with an intensity that seems to exceed their physical boundaries: while the upper disc pulses with energy, the calligraphic surge of black paint below emits a sense of imminent movement. Observing his frequent use of red and black tones, Gottlieb remarked, "I feel that I use color in terms of an emotional quality... a vehicle for the expression of feeling. Now what this feeling is, is something I probably can't define, but since I eliminated almost everything from my painting except a few colors and perhaps two or three shapes, I feel a necessity for making the particular colors that I use, or the particular shapes, carry the burden of everything that I want to express, and all has to be concentrated within these few elements. Therefore, the color has to carry the burden of this effort" (A. Gottlieb, "Selected Writings," The Adolph & Esther Gottlieb Foundation, Inc., The work's abstract forms reverberate with the tension of the Atomic Age with its glowing blood-red orb and black force field. As it captures the intense zeitgeist of the time, Balance also generates universal associations through its basic binary structure, bringing to mind the mythological clash of Apollonian and Dionysian forces or the eternal cycle of creation and destruction.

The elemental power and painterly bravura of Balance illustrate Gottlieb's influential role as a leading pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. In the 1960 work, Gottlieb's nuanced division of his canvas recalls the work of Rothko, Newman and Still, while his gestural drips are rooted in the active brushstrokes of Kline, Pollock and de Kooning. Gottlieb's friendship with Rothko provided the most significant developments within his art: together, each artist worked to refine their signature forms. Like Barnett Newman with his "zip," Rothko created his floating rectangles and Gottlieb perfected his "burst," as a crucial declaration of his unique, artistic vernacular.

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