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Franz Kline (1910-1962)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of a Private American Collection
Franz Kline (1910-1962)

Third Avenue

Franz Kline (1910-1962)
Third Avenue
signed and dated 'FRANZ KLINE '54' (on the reverse); titled '3rd AVENUE' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
38 x 25 in. (96.5 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted in 1954.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Abby and B.H. Friedman, New York
Anon. sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 08 November 1989, lot 31
Private collection, Japan
Acquavella Contemporary Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1998
S. Hunter, Modern American Painting and Sculpture, New York, 1959.
K. Kuh, My Love Affair with Modern Art: Behind the Scenes with a Legendary Curator, New York, 2006, p. 371.
W. Boyd, Bamboo: Essays and Criticism, New York, 2011, p. 316.
J. Wilmerding, "Channeling an Artist's Energy," Wall Street Journal, 31 January 2015.
XXVIII Venice Biennale, June-October 1956, p. 43.
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Franz Kline: Memorial Exhibition, December 1963, n.p., no. 3 (illustrated).
Barcelona, Fundació Antoni Tàpies; London, Whitechapel Gallery; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; Saarbrücken, Saarland Museum, Franz Kline: Art and the Structure of Identity, March 1994-February 1995, pp. 83 and 198, no. 24, (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

Exhibited at the 1956 Venice Biennale, Franz Kline’s Third Avenue belongs to a group of paintings that are among the most arresting and dynamic art created during the postwar period. With his unique artistic vocabulary, Kline’s manifestation of pictorial form is comprised solely of black and white gestures rendered in a series of highly-charged marks that streak across the surface of the canvas. Though apparently reckless, each is in fact finely balanced and controlled. With his deep roots in the history of mark-making, Kline conveys a physical immediacy that is both individual and universal.

Dominated by its bold configuration of muscular brushwork, in Third Avenue Kline conjures up an overwhelming and visceral sense of power with minimal means. Vertical and horizontal of bands of pitch black pigment are balanced by passages of cool white. In parts of the canvas these form deep pools of black pigment from which no light escapes, in others they are layered tantalizingly over each other, leaving visible traces of their creation. The often-frenetic pace at which Kline worked can be seen in the drips and splatters that are visible along the lower edge, together with areas of original support that can still be seen. The year that Third Avenue was painted, the artist maintained a studio at 32 East 10th St., just a few blocks from 3rd Avenue itself. Thus, the overall feel of this painting is one of speed, movement and ceaseless energy—all hallmarks of the ‘edges’ of the city, depicting the squares, skeletal buildings, and the recently abandoned Third Avenue elevated railway, from which the painting takes its name.

Two years after it was painted, Third Avenue was shown at the American Pavilion during the 28th Venice Biennale. Under the theme ‘American Artists Paint the City,’ the exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago curator Katharine Kuh, and was intended as a celebration of Abstract Expressionism. Alongside work by artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Kuh exhibited a number of canvases by Franz Kline, including Third Avenue. In the catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition she wrote, “If American artists paint their cities abstractly, they may be recording quite realistically what they see, for the angularity, speed, and transparency of their surroundings often appear abstract when viewed out of context. Steel buildings under construction become skeletons to look through as glass windows turn into mirrors” (K. Kuh, quoted by M. C. Simpson, “American Artists Paint the City: Katharine Kuh the 1956 Venice Biennale, and New York’s Place in the Cold War Art World,” in American Studies with American Studies International, Vol. 48, no. 4, Winter 2007, p. 38). She went on to propose that Kline’s exaggerated features “symbolize the whole city” and that his brushwork captured the “staccato excitement” of New York and this energy linked his work to the “vibrant rhythms” of “life in this teeming, swarming city” (Ibid.).

Kline would exhibit in Venice again in the next Biennale in 1960, and on this occasion critic Sidney Tillim wrote, “What matters is that the Americans have found less of an impediment between the impulse to make a sign and its plastic consequence that their European counterparts. This is especially evident at the Biennale in the work of Franz Kline, whom some Italians call the modern Caravaggio and who, observed away from the pressures of New York, appears a tower of stylistic authenticity” (S. Tillim, quoted by S. Foster, Franz Kline: Art and Structure of Identity, exh. cat., Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona, 1994, p. 181).

Despite the associations with the metropolis drawn by the likes of Katharine Kuh, the artist himself stressed that his paintings were not landscapes, but were in fact the result of a much more organic creative process. “These are painting experiences,” he said. “I don’t decide in advance that I’m going to paint a definite experience, but in the act of painting, it becomes a genuine experience for me…. If you look at abstraction, you can imagine that it’s a head, a bridge, almost anything—but it’s not these things that get me started on a painting” (F. Kline in K. Kuh, ‘Franz Kline,’ Franz Kline 1910-1962, Milan, 2004, pp. 124-124). While they are historically considered a classic representation of Abstract Expressionism, and alongside Pollock’s drips an exemplar of Harold Rosenberg’s “action painting,” Kline’s black and white paintings possess an real sense of immediacy and of being in the present moment. One can easily conjure up an image of the artist “attacking” the surface with brushes dipped in black paint. Because his gesture can be traced with such clarity, one can almost literally trace the movements of his hand and arm, forcing seemingly spontaneous decisions directly onto the paper. Nevertheless, his working method belies this appearance of spontaneity; he often deliberated on making the crucial stroke or made revisions during multiple sittings.

Third Avenue was executed in 1954, during the period widely considered to be the height of the artist’s mature style. The bold black lines define the complex spatial relationships, extending out across the surface of the picture plane to infiltrate every corner of the surface. The reductive tonal nature of the palette focuses attention on the act of mark making itself, as well as drawing attention to the nature of the medium as one well suited to the exploration of content, the observational and narrative. Kline’s inventive power and commitment to the act of painting through which he composes contrasts, clashing planes, and fugitive markings are central to Third Avenue, resulting in a tensile, central event located somewhere between abstraction and figuration, where forces come into contact within a dramatic open field.

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