Abstract Expressionism

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Abstract Expressionism 1931

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)

The Great Depression continues. 10 million Americans are now out of work. (DK90)

January 1, 1931: "Special Exhibition Arranged in Honour of the Opening of the New Building of the New School for Social Research" opens.

The exhibition included Improvisation by Arshile Gorky. (The painting has either been lost or was re-named after the exhibition.) Gorky attended the opening. The show was organized by Katherine Dreier who had exhibited her own work at the Armory Show in 1913 and had founded the Société Anonyme in 1920. (BA192)

1931 - 1939: Barnett Newman works as a substitute teacher.

Barnett Newman failed the test by the Board of Examiners that issued teaching licenses and was forced to work as a substitute teacher earning $7.50 a day. He would re-take the test several times but failed each time and would end up working as a substitute intermittently over the next eight years. (TH14/MH)

1931: Barnett Newman meets Milton Avery.

Barnett Newman met Milton Avery through Adolph Gottlieb and became a regular visitor to the gatherings at Avery's home where artists would practice life sketching. Newman and Gottlieb would share a studio intermittently over the next few years. None of Newman's work survives from this period. (MH)

April 1931: Mrs. John D. Rockefeller buys Arshile Gorky's Fruit.

Mrs. Rockefeller purchased the work (painted 1928-29) from the Downtown Gallery. During 1931 the Downtown Gallery received seven works by Gorky, priced $100 to $450. (The artist's name was spelled "Archele Gorki" in the gallery's records. Most of Gorky's works from this period were unsigned.) Gorky may have been introduced to the gallery owner by Stuart Davis who regularly exhibited there. (BA195/546)

May 1, 1931: The Empire State Building opens to the public.
June 5, 1931: Franz Kline graduates from high school.

Kline graduated from Lehighton High School in Pennsylvania ranking 52 in a class of 103. During his senior year he received a C in English, history and civics and a D in math and chemistry. He played a politician in the senior class play, To the Ladies by George S. Kaufman and was a member of the National Athletic Honor Society, having earned letters in varsity football each year, in baseball for two years and in basketball one year.

June 1931: Jackson Pollock's brother Charles marries Elizabeth England.
June 2 - June 22, 1931: "Paintings, Water-colours, Drawings, Sculptures by Leading Contemporary American Artists" exhibition at the Downtown Gallery.

The exhibition was advertised as art "to Sell at $100 and Less." Arshile Gorky showed Still Life. (BA195/546)

Summer 1931: Jackson Pollock and Manuel Tolegian hitchhike to Los Angeles.

While in Los Angeles Jackson and Reuben Kadish viewed Native American artifacts at the Southwest Museum and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art ethnographic exhibitions of South Pacific cultures. (PP329n5)

In August Tolegian and Pollock found work as lumberjacks near Wrightwood, California where Pollock's father was renting a log cabin. During the summer Tolegian and Pollock crashed an old Ford that Tolegian was driving. Tolegian had told Pollock that he (Pollock) wasn't very good working on a team (he pushed on the saw when he was supposed to pull) and Pollock reacted by pressing a saw against Tolegian's throat while he was driving. When Tolegian tried to grab the saw the car hit the side of a mountain. Although the car was damaged, both Manuel and Jackson escaped without serious injury. (JP59/PP317)

Autumn 1931: Franz Kline enrolls in college.

After graduating from high school Kline moved to Boston's Back Bay and attended Boston University for a year. In Boston he also took classes at the Boston Art Students League and studied with the illustrator John H. Crosman. (FK176)

Autumn 1931: Jackson Pollock starts his second year at the Art Students League.

Thomas Hart Benton got Pollock a part-time job in the school's lunchroom to help support his studies. Philip [aka Phillip] Pavia would later comment about the Art Students League lunchroom, "That lunchroom was crazy. On the one side you had Gorky and Stuart Davis, and on the other side you had the Jackson and Benton crowd." (JP60)

Jackson Pollock:

I spent two years at the Art Students League. Tom Benton was teaching there then, and he did a lot for me. He gave me the only formal instruction I ever had, he introduced me to Renaissance art, and he got me a job in the League cafeteria. I'm damn grateful to Tom. He drove his kind of realism at me so hard I bounced right into non-objective painting. (BU)

Although Arshile Gorky never studied at the Art Students League, he often visited the school to see his friend Stuart Davis who taught there. Pollock had an argument with Gorky during one of the Gorky's visits to the lunchroom when he overheard Gorky talking to a group of students about European artists. Pollock confronted him: "What do we need those Europeans for?" Angrily, Gorky answered back: "Where do you think the Renaissance came from?" (JP61)

September 3, 1931: Article on Stuart Davis by Arshile Gorky appears in Creative Art.

Davis had asked Gorky to write the article. In the article, Gorky notes that Davis is "one of but few, who realises his canvas as a rectangular shape with two dimensional surface plane. Therefore he forbids himself to poke lumps and holes upon that potential surface" and that Davis "works upon that platform where are working the giant painters of the century - Picasso, Léger, Kandinsky, Juan Gris - bringing to us a new utility, new aspects, as does the art of Uccello. They take us to the supernatural world behind the reality where once the great centuries danced." (BA195/196)

He also used the article as an opportunity to criticize the critics of modern art:

Arshile Gorky:

... there are a large number of critics, artists, and public suspended like vultures, waiting in the air for the death of the distinctive art of this century, the art of Léger, Picasso, Miró, Kandinsky, Stuart Davis... We shall not... hear of the sudden death of Cubism, abstraction, so-called modern art. These critics, these artists, these spectators who wait for a sudden fall are doomed to disappointment. They have merely not understood the spiritual movement and the law of direct energy of the centuries... If they could but realize that energy is a spiritual movement, and that they must conceive of working under a law of universal aesthetic progress, as we do in science, in mathematics, in physics. (HH218)

October 5 - 25, 1931: "Artists' Models: Figure Paintings by Leading Contemporary American Artists" at the Downtown Gallery.

Arshile Gorky shows Head. (BA197)

November 1931: The Whitney Museum of American Art opens in New York.
November 3-December 6, 1931: "Henri Matisse" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.
November 15 or 31, 1931: The first U.S. exhibition of Surrealism opens at America's oldest public arts museum.

The exhibition, "Newer Super-Realism" (sometimes referred to as "The New Super Realism") took place the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut (founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth) and should not be confused with an earlier exhibition, "Super Realism" at the museum. According to New York art dealer, Julien Levy, he lent Chuck Austin, the director of the Wadsworth Antheneum, "the whole group of paintings and drawings" that Levy had been gathering for his own Surrealism exhibition that would open in January 1932. (MA80) The exhibition at the Wadsworth Antheneum included eight paintings and two drawings by Dali (including The Persistence of Memory) and work by Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Giorgio de Chirico, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Man Ray and others. (FG199)

A. Everett ("Chick") Austin, Jr. [Director of the Wadsworth Antheneum at the time]:

"These pictures are chic. They are entertaining. They are of the moment. We do not have to take them too seriously. We need not demand necessarily that they be important. . . . We can laugh at them. Some of them are sinister and terrifying, but so are the tabloids. . . . Sensational, yes, but after all the painting of our day must compare with the movie thriller and the scandal sheet." (Paul Richard, "Surrealism at the Phillips: It's No Dream; Visiting Show Gives Staid Setting a Stir," The Washington Post, May 10, 2003)

[Note: In Ingrid Schaffner's introduction ("Portrait of an Art Dealer") in Julien Levy's Memoir Of An Art Gallery, Schaffner indicates that the exhibition opened on November 15, 1931. The Dali Foundation's article, "Clocking in with Salvador Dalí: Salvador Dalí's Melting Watches," indicates the exhibition opened November 31, 1931)

December 1931: "American Printmakers: Fifth Annual Exhibition" at the Downtown Gallery.

The exhibition included three lithographs by Arshile Gorky - priced at $12 each: Painter and Model, Mannikin and Self-Portrait. (BA198/546)

December 22, 1931 - January 27, 1932: Diego Rivera retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

The fact that the show was the second one-person exhibition at the museum (the first being Matisse) indicates Rivera's importance at the time. (RS/TM)

1931: Arshile Gorky joins the unemployed.

The Grand Central School of Art closed, leaving Arshile Gorky without a job. (BA546/199)

to 1932

to 1930

Abstract Expressionism

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