Property from a Private New York Collection
In 1949, revered critic Clement Greenberg lamented the state of American art and the public's opinion regarding the growth and development of American Modernism. The Kootz gallery, which had provided space for viewing the works by significant young painters including Robert Motherwell and Adolph Gottlieb leaving few galleries where people could view the advanced painting style that Greenberg declared "alive, serious and, adventurous in contemporary American art" (C. Greenberg, "The New Market for American Art" The Collected Essays and Criticism, Chicago, 1986 p. 320).
The artists represented in the present collection served as the foundation for American Modernist movement. The period before the first and second world wars was marked by a feeling of immense optimism in the United States. Art, music and literature from Europe influenced American art and artists. Some of the earliest Americans to embrace Modernism were promoted by photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, one of the most important single figures in the development of Modernism in America. The 'Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession', better known as '291' after its address on Fifth Avenue in New York, became a central gathering place for some of the most significant names of the American avant-garde. Because art galleries had generally rejected photography, Stieglitz envisioned a space in which photography could be measured in juxtaposition to other media. From this combination of his passionate spirit with specific knowledge of the aesthetic revolutions of his time, he gained the power to change the course of American art and taste. The present collection includes many significant examples in Photography by Alfred Steiglitz, Irving Penn, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Steiglitz believed that art transcended national boundaries, and was eager to fling open the doors of American culture to foreign influences, particularly those of the modern artists of the Paris salons. He exhibited American artists, John Marin, Arthur G. Dove and many others. In 1934, Arthur Dove paid tribute to Alfred Stieglitz, writing, "I couldn't have existed as a painter without that super-encouragement." Indeed, it is doubtful that many other early modernists in America would have survived and flourished without Stieglitz; thus influencing the future generation of artist's. Georgia O'Keeffe states: "I think it was Arthur Dove who affected my start, who helped me find something of my own."
In 1913, the Armory Show in New York displayed the contemporary works of European and American artists. Works by the Impressionist, Fauvist and Cubist inspired American observers. Members of the American cultural community looked to artists such as Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian who ushered in a new visual vernacular. Consequently, American painters Stuart Davis and Ralston Crawford embraced the visual styles they saw creating works that utilized abstract, Cubist-inspired forms to celebrate the energy of industry in the modern era. Stuart Davis' Study for Men Without Women, 1932 and Still, 1953 as well as Ralston Crawford's Wharf Objects at Santa Barbara and Net visually articulate these influences. Christie's is pleased to offer a selection of American Modern pictures including Milton Avery's 1960 Hills by the Sea in the December 2nd American Paintings Sale.
At the same time Avery was painting the luscious, colorfully abstracted American landscape, Clement Greenberg argued for a reconsideration of Abstract Expressionism: "Many people say that the kind of art our age produces is one of the major symptoms of what's wrong with the age. The disintegration and, finally, the disappearance of recognizable images in painting and sculpture are supposed to reflect a disintegration of values in society itself. Some people go further and say that abstract, nonrepresentational art is pathological art, crazy art, and that those who practice it and those who admire and buy it are either sick or silly" (C. Greenberg, "The Case for Abstract Art" The Collected Essays and Criticism, Chicago, 1986 p. 75). The present collection represents a perfect capsule of the art of this time, including Robert Motherwell's Spanish Elegy No. 17, a paradigm of the angst and torment that dominated the artist's work during the Post-War era. This exceptional painting is one of few works from Spanish Elegies series that until now remained in private hands. Also present are a small palette painting that illustrates the freedom and ambition of teacher-painter Hans Hofmann, an early and later example of Adolph Gottlieb works on paper and a triumphant and powerful canvas by Joan Mitchell. While the New York School was forging new territory, artists were still paying tribute to their modern masters. The idea of playfulness in abstract sculpture, born out of the humor that Klee and Miro brought to modern painting, is one of Calder's most significant contributions to modern art and perfectly exemplified in Horizontal Polychromes, a standing mobile from 1963. Similarly, Dancer, a rare and early example of David Smith's early sculptural work, exemplifies the artist's inimitable approach to abstraction. The subtle curves and movement in this work reflect the sculptor's association with his contemporary painters. Smith in fact often stated that he "belonged" with painters. Indeed, artists such as Jackson Pollock and Adolph Gottlieb were exploring pictorial forms and the themes laden with totemic overtones and primitivistic associations similar to Smith's at the time.
The Abstract Expressionist works in the collection lead the way to the Color Field painting of Helen Frankenthaler and the revolutionary forms of sculptor Anthony Caro, who Greenberg described as a "breakthrough artist" in 1965. The collection also includes two paintings by Anne Truitt from the Seventies, who will have a retrospective at the Hirshhorn--Anne Truitt: Perception and Reflection--this December. Truitt reduces painting to the essence of color, line and plane to provide a final coda in the Greenbergian sense to this collection's personal narrative of American Abstraction.
Representing some of the most exciting visual and historically significant moments in the 20th century, the present collection is a highly personal and private vision that resonates through each work and has forged one of the finest groupings of works from this period to be offered in recent sales. Surely, Clement Greenberg would be very pleased.