Christie's is honored to offer three seminal works by Alfonso Ossorio from an Important Private New York Collection.
The story of the New York School and the Abstract Expressionist generation in the 1950s would not be complete without including Alfonso Ossorio, scion of a wealthy Filipino family, art collector, patron and artist. One of the most colorful figures in postwar American art, his altruism and generosity have up until recently, obscured his own work as an artist. In 1949 Ossorio befriended Jackson Pollock, who then made an important introduction to Jean Dubuffet. Both artists had a profound impact on Ossorio's art. In 1951 Ossorio purchased The Creeks, a fifty-seven-acre estate on Georgica Pond where he lived until his death forty years later. The Creeks were a cultural hub of the East End and a meeting place for Pollock, Krasner, Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Costantino Nivola, as well as the home of Ossorio's magnificent art collection and gardens.
From 1953 for three consecutive years, the Betty Parsons Gallery, which showed Pollock's work, organized one-man exhibitions of Ossorio's paintings and congregations. From a 1950 Pollock show at Parsons, Ossorio bought -- for $1,500 -- "Lavender Mist," a major canvas that he sold in 1976 to the National Gallery of Art in Washington at a price said to be more than $2 million. From 1956-1958 he organized a series of exhibitions at the Executive House in New York with works by Willem de Kooning, Jean Dubuffet, Hans Hofmann and David Smith. In 1962 he purchased the L'Art Brut collection at the Cordier & Warren Gallery, which also showcased his work.
The following three paintings offer a comprehensive study of Ossorio's ouevre. Shift in Rules, painted in 1954 is clearly influenced by Jackson Pollock's early Surrealist canvases. Deeply influenced by Pollock, in a 1968 interview Ossorio states:
I realized that Pollock was carrying on exactly in the tradition that I was interested in and in a way had bypassed the Renaissance and had gone back to a much earlier tradition of art in terms of dealing with forms and shapes dictated by the ideas rather than by appearance. I mean it's much more like the artists' manuscript or Celtic illumination than it is like David (Ossorio as interviewed by Forrest Selvig, Archives of American Art, 1968).
Ossorio writes about his own painting Shift in Rules, in Thomas Gibson's catalogue Fourteen Paintings: Shift in Rules or plus ça change, "The handling of paint in this detailed hard-edge composition is a far cry from the fluidity of most of the artist's work during the previous four years. Two key motifs are: at the bottom, a simple, biotic white form clutching a right-angled black and, at the upper left center, the green tendril penetrating the white, linear 'rule'. These two motifs are echoed in the upper fluid and changing and lower more static, halves of picture; both areas are similar in the interplay of their allusively terrestrial and aquatic forms" (A. Ossorio, Fourteen Paintings, p. 22).
Touch and Go and Prototem, executed in 1960-1961 were both included in the Betty Parsons exhibition of 1961. This same year, the concept of assemblage was given wide public currency by the exhibition The Art of Assemblage at MOMA, New York. In what Ossorio termed his Congregations, the artist created his own visual language using a combination of found objects like shells, animal bones, horns, antlers, wood chips, rope and glass eyes which make a connection to themes like life and death. He combined these found objects with various media-like ink and wax on paper, oils, plaster, canvas, enamels, woods, and/or other various materials. In an exhibition catalogue on Ossorio's early works at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Curator Klaus Kertess wrote about his own eyewitness experience of Ossorio's Congregations. He states that they are a "visual interdependence of chaos and order."
"The idea is to take the most ordinary things and make them extraordinary, as Gerard Manley Hopkins does in his poems. I want to show the richness of even the most disagreeable bits of life" (G. Glueck, "Alfonso Ossorio, New York Times, December 6, 1990).
B.H. Friedman describes The Creeks as a Factory of Dreams. Filled with his own art and the art of his contemporaries, the space represented Ossorio's own personal congregation. Although he was deeply entrenched in the circle of New York artists who were integral to the history of Post-War American Art, Alfonso Ossorio embraced an ideology that is distinctly postmodern and put him ahead of his time.