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Property of an Eminent New York Collector

Plastic Polygon

Plastic Polygon
signed and dated 'Shaw 1937' (on the reverse)
oil on shaped panel
32 ¼ x 20 ¾ in. (81.9 x 52.7 cm.)
Painted in 1937.
Washburn Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1979
New York, Washburn Gallery, American Abstract Paintings from the 1930s and 1940s, September-October 1976.
Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Museum; Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Atlanta, The High Museum of Art, The Machine Age in America: 1918-1941, October 1986-February 1988, no. 198.
New York University, Grey Art Gallery; Andover, Phillips Academy, Addison Gallery of American Art and University of Florida, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, The Park Avenue Cubists: Gallatin, Morris, Frelinghuysen and Shaw, January-November 2003, pp. 70, 71 and 96, no. 34 (illustrated as Untitled).
New York, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, Charles G. Shaw, November-December 2007 (titled as Untitled).

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Lot Essay

The present work belongs to a limited series of Plastic Polygon works, which includes examples in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey; and Weatherspoon Art Museum, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina. In his 1938 essay entitled “The Plastic Polygon,” Charles Green Shaw explains, “What I have termed the plastic polygon—a several sided figure divided into a broken pattern of rectangles—developed in the course of years from certain experiments made by myself in 1933. In the main these experiments were founded upon the New York scene—or rather the Manhattan skyline—treated semi-cubistically.” (“The Plastic Polygon,” Plastique, no. 3, Spring 1938, p. 28) Indeed, Plastic Polygon’s perimeter evokes the Manhattan skyline through its stepped, vertical blocks, while the composition within seems to reduce the life, sound and movement of New York City into a dance of colorful geometries.

One of Shaw's most radical innovations within Plastic Polygon is the custom cut panel on which it is painted, which would not make a prevalent resurgence in the wider narrative of art history until its use by post-War artists, such as Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns. Shaw explained of his inspiration behind the shaped panel support: “My intention in abandoning the orthodox four-stripped frame has been to give the figure wider freedom—a freedom especially required, I believe, because of the large number of straight lines used.” (“The Plastic Polygon,” p. 28) While to the artist the decision to shape the picture plane felt like a sensible, straightforward solution, as William C. Agee declares, "In Plastic Polygon, Shaw created one of the most original and far-reaching abstractions of the period, featuring what must be the first shaped canvas in American Art." (Modern Art in America: 1908-68, New York, 2016, p. 148)

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