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Norman Bluhm (1921-1999)
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Norman Bluhm (1921-1999)

Chicago 1920

Details
Norman Bluhm (1921-1999)
Chicago 1920
signed and dated 'Bluhm 59' (on the reverse)
triptych--oil on canvas
each: 84 x 36 in. (213.4 x 91.4 cm.)
overall: 84 x 108 in. ( 213.4 x 274.3 cm.)
Painted in 1959.
Provenance
David Anderson Gallery, New York
Private collection, Birmingham
Literature
B. Grun, The Timetables of History, New York, 1975.
J. Harithas, R. Rubinstein and L. Sansone, Norman Bluhm, Milan, 2000, pp. 52-53 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
Kassel, Documenta II, 1959.
Newport Harbor Art Museum; Worcester Art Museum; New York, Grey Art Gallery, New York University; Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center; Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Austin, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas, Action: The New Direction Precision in New York 1955-60, June 1984-February 1986, p. 62-63 (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Norman Bluhm, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings edited by John Yau.

"Chicago 1920 is titled after both the city and year of Norman Bluhm's birth. It associates both the starting point of the artist's own recognition of his stylistic and developmental growth with his place and year of birth. It is a celebration of his break with the more formal decorative (French style) paintings into his own gestural mode, one that is defined by sharp concentrated splatter of paint applied with a bolt of energy in a specific and controlled location, size, and trajectory. Bluhm's paintings have gone through a transition from a European/French attitude of refinement, sophistication, and delicacy to a sense of the American action, gesture, and muscle. The gesture is more an enlarged mark than a broad sweep, born of the more tightly packed and interlocking swatches of paint that composed his work during the mid-50's. Chicago 1920 provides a definite link between the centrifugal armature of late 1957-58 and the allover spotty and gesturally charged works of 1959. There are still remnants, however, of the concentric circle that is so evident in Sunstorms. The palette is a delicate juxtaposition of saturated reds and blues on a warm white ground. There are both implosive and explosive qualities to this painting. The gestures are controlled, condensed, and singularly explosive, as if one were flying over a battlefield with landmines going off below. This is contrasted by the overall unity and equal activation of the complete canvas. The areas of paint, for the most part, remain independent of each other.

Another breakthrough realized in Chicago 1920 is the enlarged gesture. Bluhm needed to enlarge the surface or ground on which he painted. A triptych format (for no allegorical reason) allowed Bluhm space in which to recreate nature and natural phenomena in his own image. Bluhm's paintings balance on a tightrope strung between the formal and the emotive in an on-going search for balance between action/gesture and a precisely placed mark. Even the drips, a hallmark of freedom, have a controlled and specific quality that are only Bluhm's" (P. Schimmel, Action: The New Direction Precision in New York 1955-60, exh. cat., Newport Harbor Art Museum, 1984, p. 625).

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