Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism 1937

by Gary Comenas

1937: Carl Jung lectures at Yale University.

Jung gave three lectures as part of the Terry lecture series which would, in 1938, be published by the Yale University Press.

Harold D. Laswell (The Psychoanalytic Quarterly):

"The three Terry lectures given by Dr. Jung at Yale University develop the thesis that religion is an intense and involuntary experience against whose recurrence, creeds are erected in self-defense. Borrowing from Rudolf Otto, he describes the 'numinosum' as the authentic religious condition of the subject. Fellow clinicians will recognize that the 'numinosum' is what is usually covered by the term 'anxiety'. Thus the analysis of the causes of religious experience becomes a repetition of Dr. Jung's theory of anxiety."

January 13, 1937: Retrospective Exhibition at the WPA-sponsored Municipal Art Art Gallery opens.

Artists included Alice Neel, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Evergood, Ilya Bolotwsky and Milton Avery, among others.

Edward Alden Jewell announced in the January 13, 1937 issue of The New York Times:

"The Municipal Art Committee has arranged in its Temporary Galleries at 62 West Fifty-third Street is a retrospective exhibition that serves to summarize the activities of the gallery since its career began one year ago... Each three-week exhibition since the venture began has contained several groups and nearly all of these groups are now represented, so that the retrospective gives an equable - if of course epitomized - account of the work accomplished in this field by the Municipal Art Committee and the artists cooperating with it." (MO)

A catalogue was produced which listed the seventeen previous exhibitions at the temporary gallery. (The first was an exhibition by The Ten in January 1936). Almost 700 artists had exhibited at the gallery.

January 1937: Franz Kline meets his future wife.

Kline met his future wife, Elizabeth V. Parsons, at Heatherly's art school where he was studying in England. She was a life drawing model in an illustration class taught by Frederic Whiting which Kline was enrolled in. Kline asked her to pose for him outside the class which she did - only to find out that he didn't have any money to pay her. She continued to see Kline (he took her out for her first Coke) and they eventually married. Elizabeth was a dancer - a trained ballet artist who danced professionally under the stage name of Elizabeth Vincent from early 1926 to spring 1928. (Some Kline chronologies incorrectly claim that she was a member of Sadler's Wells Ballet.) (FK176)

1937: Adolph Gottlieb does a Post Office mural.

Adolph Gottlieb:

"... it was actually after I got off the WPA. I entered a U.S. Treasury Mural contest. It was called the 48 States Competition. There was a prize for each state and I won one of the awards. I won it for Nevada. So I did a mural for the Post Office in a small town called Yarington, Nevada, and I didn't think I did a good job." (AS/AG20)

February 4, 1937: Philip Guston marries Musa McKim.

They moved into loft on 22nd Street near Fifth Avenue. The ceremony was performed at City Hall with Jackson Pollock's brother, Sande, serving as the only witness. After the ceremony they went with other artists in the WPA Mural Division to look at a subway station for a possible mural. (Guston did do some studies for the Penn Station subway, but the project was never completed. (DA35/MM27)

Musa had met Guston while they were both students at the Otis Art Institute. (MM20) She had planned to become an artist herself. She continued to paint during the early years of their marriage, completing a mural in 1939 for the post office in Waverly, New York (commissioned by the New York State Section of Fine Arts.) Her and Philip also worked on some projects together - panels for the Maritime Commission for three steamships and two pieces for the Department of Forestry in Laconia, New Hampshire. (MM18)

1937: System and Dialectics of Art by John Graham is published.

Graham inscribed a copy for Adolph Gottlieb, "To Esther and Adolph, Graham ," and added Adolph's name in pen to the list of "outstanding American painters" in the book: "Matulka, Avery, (Adolph Gottlieb 'amended by the author'), Stuart Davis, Max Weber, David Smith, Willem de Kooning, Edgar Levy.... Some are just as good and some are better than the leading artists of the same generation in Europe." (AG27n43/BA286)

1937: Barnett Newman applies for work and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Both Barnett and his wife Annalee were working as substitute teachers. Newman applied for a job as a federal inspector in a prison clothing factory and later for a teaching position at Queens College. He was turned down for both jobs. He also applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on his book on the civil service but his proposal was rejected. He abandoned the idea of a book. (MH)

January 1937: Mark Rothko's wife is dropped from the WPA.

Edith Rothko's last entry in her diary was: "Jan. 1937. Just got canned by WPA. Marcus [Mark Rothko] is a very sweet boy. Married four years two months. Still unhappy." (RO143) Edith was probably working as a sculptor for the WPA. She also taught crafts part-time at the Center Academy where Rothko taught art. During the 1930s she studied jewelry and metalwork at the New York School of Art and Trades and invented a craft kit for children - the Linkatrinket. When she was unable to interest department stores in the kit, she started a silver jewelry business. She originally wanted to paint but would later say that she thought "it might conflict with our marriage" and that "jealousies" would develop if she painted. (RO143) Her and Rothko would frequent the 57th Street galleries, the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art, and she later said that he was particularly enthusiastic about Picasso, Matisse and de Chirico. (RO144)

January 11, 1937: Arshile Gorky sends a letter to his "loveds."

Gorky would often use the term "my loveds" ("eem seereliners") throughout letters, at the beginning of sentences. This letter, written five days after the Armenian Christmas, was to his sister Vartoosh ("Eem amena seereli Vartoosh" or "My most beloved Vartoosh"). In the letter he wrote "Today I completed a very large and excellent painting which I wish you could see - it is very, very good, clean and most authentic." His largest paintings at that time were Composition with Head and Still Life on Table. (BA264)

January 1937: Jackson Pollock proposes to Becky Tarwater.

Before Becky Tarwater left for New York to take care of her ill sister in Tennessee Pollock asked her to be his wife but she rejected his offer - "You felt this great suffering that he had. I was troubled myself because my sister was sick, and I knew I couldn't help him." (JP87)

January 22-April 27, 1941: "Indian Art of the United States" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.
January 1937: Jackson Pollock sees a psychiatrist.

Jackson had been drinking heavily at neighbourhood bars and was no longer painting. His behaviour, which included stabbing the kitchen table with a knife in one instance and ripping the tablecloth into shreds, was becoming increasingly difficult. Jackson's brother, Sande, and Sande's wife, Arloie, convinced Jackson to see a (Jungian) psychiatrist. Six months later Sande wrote to his and Jackson's brother, Charles (now living in Detroit and working as a cartoonist for the newspaper of the Automobile Workers Union), that six months of psychiatric care had failed to curb Jackson's drinking. When Charles suggested that Sande and Arloie relocate to Detroit as there were several job openings in the union newspaper, Sande replied that "I would be fearful of the results if he [Jackson] were left alone with no one to keep him in check." (JP88/PP318)

First half of 1937: Franz Kline exhibition at Heatherly's.

Kline's first ever solo show was an unpublicised show of his work at the art school he was attending in London. (FK176)

February 1937: TRAP begins phasing out easel painters in favour of mural painters.

TRAP began phasing out easel painters in February 1937. The Artists' Coordinating Committee protested and at least some of the TRAP easel painters, such as Mark Rothko, were transferred to the Easel Division of the Federal Art Project (see May 16, 1937) (RO120)

February 3 - 21, 1937: Jackson Pollock exhibits Cotton Pickers at the Temporary Galleries of the Municipal Art Committee at 62 West 53rd Street. (PP318)
1937: Arshile Gorky paints Master Bill.

The subject of the portrait was identified as a portrait of Willem de Kooning in de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006) (DK211), but it is actually of another friend of Gorky - a Swedish housepainter and carpenter.

From "Rethinking Arshile Gorky" by Michael R. Taylor in Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective (Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press: 2009), p. 27

"The formal composition of Woman with a Palette anticipates later paintings such as Portrait of Master Bill... which depicts a man seated in a similarly ambiguous architectural space, his rounded face shown in three-quarters view. The correspondences between the two paintings perhaps suggest that Gorky used Woman with a Palette, or its related studies, as the basis for his portrait of his friend, a Swedish housepainter and carpenter whose first name has often led to his misidentification as "Bill" de Kooning."*

*Matthew Spender, From a High Place, p. 299. According to Spender, Gorky gave art lessons to 'Master Bill' in exchange for having his studio painted.

April 1937: First Annual Membership Exhibition of the American Artists' Congress at the ACA Galleries.

Simultaneous exhibitions were held in New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Portland and Philadelphia. An exhibition planned for Baltimore was cancelled. (AA277)

From the exhibition catalogue:

"The artist of our time has been inevitably and profoundly affected by two events in the world outside - the Great War of 1914 and the economic crisis that began in 1929... From the war he learned that the world of art... is in reality a structure so frail that it takes but the insatiate ambition of military men, the desire of industrialists to increase their profits, or the blunt intention of bankers to protect their loans, to send it tumbling to destruction... From the great depression he has learned that even in times of peace the foundations of the world of art are not secure... He [the artist] has come to see that if he wants the world of art to live, he must work actively for those physical conditions that are basic necessities for any art activity, an economic relationship with society that will provide a room to work in, food for energy, ample supplies of canvas, colours, materials. The old order has demonstrated that by and large and for most artists it cannot supply these physical conditions... He [the artist] sees, too, that if he wants the world of art to live, he must fight for something beyond these physical conditions. That something is freedom... The artist must have complete freedom of expression, freedom to deal with any aspect of life without hindrance... These then, are the things the American artist has learned about the world and about himself. Understanding has brought with it the compulsion to act... To meet this need the American Artists' Congress was formed somewhat over a year ago. (AA287-89)

April 1937: Barnett Newman fails a teaching exam.

Barnett Newman scored only 15% on the performance portion of the exam for a teacher's license to teach art. He continued to work as a substitute teacher earning less than $1,400 without sick leave, vacation pay or unemployment insurance - although the salary was better than working for the WPA. (MH)

After his father suffered a heart attack the same year, Newman was allowed to liquidate the family clothing business. He also assisted Annalee's father, Samuel Greenhouse, in an unsuccessful legal battle regarding patent infringement. Newman would later say about this period, "The art situation was so boring, I felt had more serious problems: my father, her father." (MH)

April 28-May 30, 1937: "Prehistoric Rock Pictures in Europe and Africa" exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art.

Adolph Gottlieb, who had been collecting primitive art since 1935 (with the advice and guidance of his friend John Graham), attended the exhibition which included primitive pictographs. Gottlieb would begin painting his own modern "pictographs" in 1941. (AG33)

Adolph Gottlieb [1945]:

"When I say I am reaching for a totality of vision, I mean that I take the things I know - hand, nose, arm - and use them in my paintings after separating them from their associations as anatomy. I use them as a primitive method, and a primitive necessity of expressing, without learning how to do so by conventional ways. It puts us at the beginning of seeing." (AG34)

April 28-May 30, 1937: "Paintings by Paul Cézanne from the Museum" at The Museum of Modern Art.

Barnett Newman [from "The Problem of Subject Matter," c. 1944]:

"It can now be seen that the art critics who maligned Cézanne during his lifetime had a better understanding of the revolutionary implications of his art than his English and American defenders who hailed him as the father of modern art on the grounds that he was the great proponent of the art of Poussin... Modern painting begins with the Impressionists precisely because for the first time in history a group of artists arose, who, repudiating the role of the great personal message... decided to devote themselves exclusively to solving a technical problem in painting - color.

... The Post-Impressionists... [were] a group in the unity of their opposition to the monist esthetic of the Impressionists. Cézanne, van Gogh, Renoir, like isolated scientists who discover the same truth, formed a community when they reasserted that color, no matter how important its liberation, was still only one of the artist's problems... Where the Impressionists shouted that vision is light, these men made the point that light makes us see - shapes. The result was a re-examination of the mechanics of drawing and form.

C├ęzanne was the first artist to comprehend that in nature there are no lines. Herein lies the significance of his remark that nature is a collection of cubes, cones and spheres. He saw the world as it is, mass instead of contours... Line could not count, not one exists in nature. It was what was between the lines that mattered... The secret lay in the discovery and use of distortion as a principle. Fundamentally this is his great discovery, for where the Impressionists used science to discover the hidden resources of the palette, the Post-Impressionists found that they had to deny scientific perspective." (TH26)

May 1937: Exhibition of The Ten at the Georgette Passedoit Gallery on E. 60th Street in New York.

It was the first (and last) time that The Ten showed at the Georgette Passedoit Gallery. Their two previous exhibits in the U.S. had been at the Montross Gallery. They had also been included in a group show at the Municipal Art Gallery.

From the New York World-Telegram [May, 1, 1937]:

"'The Ten' are showing at the Gallery of Georgette Passedoit, the ten being a handful of the painters first sponsored by Robert Godsoe at his defunct Gallery Secession, plus a few additions like Lee Gatch and Ben-Zion. None of the pictures are master works... Most of them, however, reflect serious aspiration, great sincerity and more than average skill. Louis Schanker's semi-abstraction Musicians, for example, is a commendable piece, along with Adolph Gottlieb's fine Surf Casting, Ben-Zion's interestingly coloured Still-Life and Rothkowitz's [Mark Rothko's] sensitive Family."

May 16, 1937: Mark Rothko is re-assigned to the Easel Division of the Federal Art Project.

Rothko was transferred from the TRAP Easel Division to the Federal Art Project Easel Division after TRAP began letting the easel painters go due to lack of funding. At the time of his transfer, there were 2,100 artists working on the New York project and a waiting listed of 2,000 more - some of whom objected to the priority given to the TRAP artists. One month after Rothko's transfer, there was a cut of 25% in personnel provoking a work stoppage, sit-ins and demonstrations. On July 12, 1938 Rothko's pay was reduced to $91.10 per month.) (RO120)

Easel painters, unlike the mural painters on the project, worked in their own studios without supervision. As an easel painter, Rothko had to submit an oil painting every 4 -6 weeks (depending on size) to be allocated for use in a public building. (RO121)

1937 - Late Spring 1938: Robert Motherwell attends Harvard University.

After graduating from Stanford with a B.A. in philosophy, Motherwell enrolled in the philosophy department at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Robert Motherwell:

"I started as an abstract artist. But, you see, also at Harvard and Stanford I studied philosophy and logic. In those days it was at the height of the development of mathematical logic on the one side from Whitehead and Russell, and on the other side from Witgenstein. And it became very clear to me that what structure is the relations among the elements and that elements related are meaningful. Which is to say that abstract structures can be meaningful... I mean where most artists of my generation are older it was a moral crisis to move from figure drawing and all the things that one had started into abstraction. But I took to it like a duck to water." (SR)

Robert Motherwell:

"I was miserable there really [at Harvard]. I mean it was my first encounter with the East, with the snobbism, the anti-Semitism, the Yankee Puritanism, the hierarchies, the formalities. To me it was unendurable. Actually the year after when I went to Paris, though I didn't know a work of French -- which was one of the reasons I went to Paris -- Paris seemed much more familiar to me than Cambridge and Boston did. I mean I immediately understood the people better, why they were doing what they were doing. At harvard I used to go out with Radcliffe girls. I remember if you were at a party, say, with twelve or fifteen people you could immediately tell the people who were not from the East. You know, when they came in and shook hands they's smile and say "How are you?" or "I'm delighted to meet you." And the Easterners never did. They shook hands and looked at you. Now I feel differently but now I's a powerful person so that if I enter Cambridge they smile at me. Which they didn't do to a student." (SR)

Motherwell had agreed to go to Harvard reluctantly. He wanted to be a painter. His father wanted him to be a "professional man."

Robert Motherwell:

When I graduated from Stanford my father, to my shock, said, "Now you're going to be a lawyer or a doctor or a banker or whatever professional man you want to me; and what do you want to be, and where do you want to study it?" I said, "I won't and I can't." And it was literally true. I couldn't have. He said, "You're very well-educated, you're very well-dressed, you speak very well, you get along with people very well, you could have a marvelous career." I said, "I don't want it." He said, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I want to be a painter." He said, "That's impossible," etcetera. And finally after months of really a cold war he made a very generous agreement with me which was -- and you have to remember all the time that this is in the context of the depths of the Depression -- he made an agreement with me that if I would get a Ph.D. so that I would be equipped to teach in a college as an economic insurance, he would give me fifty dollars a week for the rest of my life to do whatever I wanted to do on the assumption that with fifty dollars I could not starve but it would be no inducement to last. So with that agreed on Harvard then -- it was actually the last year--Harvard still had the best philosophy school in the world. And since I had taken my degree at Stanford in philosophy, and since he didn't care what the Ph.D. was in, I went on to Harvard. (SR)

Motherwell would later recall his main influence at Harvard being A.N. Whitehead.

Robert Motherwell:

"[I studied with] Arthur Lovejoy from Johns Hopkins who happened to be the visiting professor that year; with a great aesthetician named David White Prall; with C.I. Louis, who was an expert on Kant and ethics; and with somebody else. But probably the main influence was Whitehead who had just retired, but was still lecturing at --What's the girls' college next to Harvard? -- not Radcliffe but ten miles away? Wellesley. Where I heard some of the lectures and who was around Harvard all the time; and many of the graduate assistants, etcetera, were filled with him, and I knew him. So that even though he wasn't literally teaching, his influence was everywhere there. Then the next year I went to Paris for the year to work on Delacroix which I started under Lovejoy and Prall. Then Whitehead left. Prall dropped dead of a heart attack. And suddenly this place that had been a citadel for fifty years of humanistic philosophy became pure mathematical logic. So I decided not to go back because that was my least philosophical interest. In Paris I had met an American composer named Arthur Berger who was studying with Nadia Boulanger. We were talking one day. He knew of my agreement with my father. He said, "Well, actually you're more interested in art, and your father doesn't care what your Ph.D. is in, and in New York at Columbia there's a guy named Meyer Schapiro who knows all the things that you're really interested in. If you're not going back to harvard" -- where Berger had been, too, with the same people as I was -- Leonard Bernstein and Harry Devin, a lot of brilliant guys -- "why don't you going to Columbia and study with Meyer Schapiro?" And so I did. And that's how I got to New York... And that was the end of my youth." (SR)

Summer 1937: Mark Rothko and his wife separate.

During their separation Rothko's wife, Edith, first worked at a children's camp, then lived on her own in Woodstock.The separation was supposed to be permanent but they reconciled in the autumn. Money, or lack of it, seemed to be the basis of many of their arguments. To Rothko Edith seemed materialistic. According to Edith's brother Howard Sachar (and Beverly Sachar), Rothko "was unhappy because she made the money," but "the complaints from Marcus were not that he as a man should be doing that, but that she shouldn't really want those things." By the early 1940s a jewelry business that Edith set up became increasingly successful - she employed Rothko as a salesman at one point. On September 26, 1941 Milton Avery wrote to Luis and Annette Kaufman: "saw Marcus he has eased up on his book and been acting as salesman for Edith his wife's efforts in jewelry designing." (RO144/590n80). By 1942 Edith's sales had increased sufficiently for her to rent a loft on East 21st Street for her business. (RO146) After reconciling, the couple stayed together until early 1944 when they divorced.

June 9, 1937: Arshile Gorky's murals are unveiled at the Newark Airport.

There were various problems with the murals. The wrong adhesive was used to hang them and they had to be re-hung after some of them began to fall off the walls. (BA267-8) Government officials objected to the inclusion of the Texaco gasoline company's red star logo on a truck in one of the murals titled Activities on the Field. The officials thought it looked like the Communist star. The airport manager also objected to the star because he thought it was free advertising for Texaco. Gorky was asked to repaint the star in blue. (HH269) A review of the murals that appeared in the June 10th issue of the Newark Ledger treated them as a sort of abstract joke:

From Gerard Sullivan, "Mr. Gorky's Murals the Airport They Puzzle," Newark Ledger (June 10, 1937):

"Visitors to the new Administration Building at Newark Airport were walking around in a daze yesterday trying to decipher a series of startling murals. Equally puzzled were two Russian artists assigned by the WPA to paint the Cubistic brain children of Arshile Gorky the WPA maestro who conceived the murals. They had a sketch on the floor and were gazing at it in awe. It was a frightening assortment of multi-colored angles and lanes with something that looked like a silhouette of Popeye the sailor on his back eating two telephone poles.

'This is the top,' hazarded the first artist, pointing a tentative finger toward a Japanese sunset.

'No, said the second artist, turning the sketch around and cautiously touching a character study of Old Faithful. 'This is the top.'

Came ponderous steps along the floor - a man with a handle-bar moustache and long hair tied in a knot at the nape of his neck.

'What makes the trouble?' he demanded.

'I'm sorry Mr. Gorky,' said his first assistant, Mr. Bodna, 'but we can't tell which is the top.'

'No difference it makes,' roared Mr. Gorky. 'Top is bottom, bottom is top, it is all comprehensible to the artistic eye of the cultured!'

And 'no difference it makes,' is right, according to the remarks of visitors!" (HH269-70)

Unfortunately, Gorky's murals were painted over when the airport was taken over by the Air Force during World War II. (BA264)

June 20 - 27, 1937: "Second Annual Competitive Exhibition" of the Artists' Congress at the ACA Galleries. (AA277)
July 21, 1937: Jackson Pollock travels to Chilmark.

Pollock's supervisors at the Federal Art Project agreed to give him a leave of absence. He stayed in Chilmark (where his old mentor Thomas Hart Benton had a summer home which Jackson began visiting in 1934) for a little less than a month. During his first day there he was arrested for disorderly conduct after chasing some girls on his bicycle while drunk. While there he received a letter from Becky Tarwater telling him that she had become engaged to a Tennessee doctor. A few days after returning to New York, he wrote her on August 21, 1937 that "I am going through a tremendous emotional unrest. With the possibility that I will do better in the future. I realize very well now that I couldn't have made a happy life for you." He enclosed a small painting of two red roses with the letter. (JP89)

Post-July 1937: All WPA workers have to be American citizens.

After July 1937 all WPA recipients had to be U.S. citizens. Among those receiving aid who were not yet citizens was Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. (RO120) During 1937 there was also government crack down on radicals in the project, led by Texas conservative Martin Dies, and the military was put in charge of the WPA at regional level. (DK132)

1937: Willem de Kooning resigns from the WPA.

De Kooning, who took part in the WPA for about a year and a half, was not yet an American citizen.

August 1937: Franz Kline travels from London to Wales for a three week holiday. (FK176)
Autumn 1937: Arshile Gorky works on mural for the World's Fair.

Arshile Gorky [from a letter to his sister, Vartoosh]:

"... for more than two months I have been preparing paintings (World's Fair). Please God, they be accepted. Nearly $12,000 is available. But my dear, I finished the work three and a half weeks ago and I wait, saying to myself, today, tomorrow, today, tomorrow... I am always thinking that if they really accept me then we could all be well off, Father, Akabi, Satenig, you and I... Then I shall have a painting in an exhibition at the Whitney Museum for $2,000. I shall be painting a picture. They haven't put such a high price on my painting if only I could help Father so that he could come down at Christmas - Darling, I miss all of you so very much. Tomorrow, that is tomorrow night, two or three students will come for lessons and if I get paid I shall send Akabi $15 so she can send it to Father. This very minute I let out such a bitter sigh - My cat is sitting on the table and getting in my way, he jumped onto the first page and smeared the writing. But it is very pretty and, just like Karlen [Vartoosh's son], snuggles in my arm and for hours sits watching how I paint." (BA268)

September 1937: Franz Kline continues his relationship with Elizabeth V. Parsons in Notting Hill Gate.

By September 13 Kline had moved from 121 Westbourne Grove to 18 Notting Hill Gate. With Elizabeth he visited the National Gallery and spoke of his admiration for Rembrandt, Whistler, Charles Keene and illustrator Phil May - he wasn't so keen on Gainsborough who he said was a "thin" painter. Around this time he worked briefly as a display artist at Selfridges. (FK177)

October 1937: Jackson Pollock exhibits a watercolour in the first exhibition of the new WPA Federal Art Gallery at 225 West 57th Street. (PP318)
October 6 - November 1, 1937: Dali, Ernst, Berman, Tchelitchew and Leonid exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. (MA303)
November 10 - December 12, 1937: Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum.

Arshile Gorky's Painting was included in the Annual. On December 13th Gorky sent a telegram to his family telling them that "Whitney Museum purchased one of my paintings for $650." (BA269)

c. December 1937 - June 1938: Adolph Gottlieb and wife live in the desert near Tucson, Arizona.

The Gottlieb's home in the Arizona desert was located near Tucson. While there he would begin painting what would be later referred to as his "imaginary landscapes."

Adolph Gottlieb:

"It was 1937. My wife had arthritis. She had been teaching school and the doctor recommended that she take about a year off and go to a very dry climate. So we checked on what the driest place was and made a decision to got to Tucson, Arizona. We went out there and lived in the desert for about nine months... I produced a great deal of work during this period I was away from the New York scene and started using the material that was at hand. I didn't have any money. Art supplies were expensive. I started using paint from cans that I got from paint stores. I painted the objects that I picked up from the desert, dry pieces of cactus and other things, pieces of bone... WEll, then I came back to New York and had a show of that work [at the Artists' Gallery]. A lot of people seemed to think I had become very abstract. It didn't strike me as being particularly abstract." (AS)

While in Arizona he visited the museum of Indian art in Tucson. Although some writers would later write that his interest in Indian art influenced his Arizona paintings and his later pictographs, Gottlieb would later comment about Native American art that "I don't think I was very much influenced by that."

Adolph Gottlieb:

"There's a museum in Tucson of Indian art. But this is almost exclusively art of the Southwest which isn't very exciting - but it's quite good. There were some things there that were quite good, especially the early things. Curiously, the Indians, just like other cultures, their art seems to disintegrate when they come into contact with our culture. So the earlier the things the better they were. I don't think I was very much influenced by that. Everybody seemed to think that my colors were influenced by the desert because I use tans and browns and grays and soft colors. That may be. It's possible. It may be also that I just limited myself to that sort of palette." (AS)

During his time in the desert, Gottlieb's paintings took on a Surrealist tone - such as Symbols and the Desert (1937 - 38), Untitled (Pink Still Life - Curtain and Gourds) (1938) and Untitled (Still LIfe - Landscape in Window) (1938) Other works painted in the desert still reveal the influence of Milton Avery: The Swimming Hole, Untitled (Portrait-Blue Bandana) and Untitled (Self Portrait in Mirror) - all painted 1937 - 38. (AG22)

Adolph Gottlieb:

"I think the emotional feeling I had on the desert was that it was like being at sea. In fact, when you're out on the desert, you see the horizon for 360 degrees... so that the desert is like the ocean in that sense." (AG21)

December 17, 1937: Second American Artists' Congress begins.

A message from Pablo Picasso, read by a nurse, was transmitted by telephone:

"I am sorry that I cannot speak to the American Artists' Congress in person, as was my wish, so that I might assure the artists of America, as director of the Prado Museum, that the democratic government of the Spanish Republic has taken all the necessary measures to protect the artistic treasures of Spain during this cruel and unjust war... It is my wish at this time to remind you that I have always believed, and still believe, that artists who live and work with spiritual value cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake." (SG26/AA289)

An exhibition "In Defense of World Democracy: Dedicated to the Peoples of Spain and China" took place December 15 - 30, 1937 in conjunction with the second congress. (AA289)

December 1937: Partisan Review resumes publication with new staff.

Dwight Macdonald was the new editor. Graduating from Yale in 1928 with a B.A., he had been the associate editor of Fortune magazine from 1929-1936. Macdonald, a member of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers' Party from 1939 - 1941, would edit the Partisan Review from 1937-1943.

December 15 - December 31, 1937: De Chirico exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery. (MA303)
Late 1937 - early 1939: Willem de Kooning works on a mural for the World's Fair.

The commission for the work came via Michael Loew. De Kooning had met Loew in the early thirties through Robert Jonas who was a friend of Loew and worked with de Kooning at A.S. Beck. Loew was impressed by the fact that de Kooning was carrying a copy of Marx's Das Kapital when they were introduced and even more impressed when Jonas took him to de Kooning's studio. Loew's widow later recalled that de Kooning and Loew "formed a mutual admiration society." An architect friend of Loew was designing two buildings at the World's Fair which was scheduled to open in April 1939, and he asked Loew for help in decorating them. Loew recommended de Kooning for one of the murals for one of the buildings - the Hall of Pharmacy. The Hall was to be located off the Long Island Expressway which meant that thousands of motorists would be able to see the curved wall of the building decorated with de Kooning's mural. (DK150)

December 1937: Jackson Pollock gets drunk in Kansas City.

Jackson Pollock visited the Bentons over Christmas in Kansas City where Thomas Hart Benton was teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. During his visit Pollock took to drinking and hanging out with students from Art Institute. Benton later commented that Jackson "began escaping with alcohol quite early though my wife and I did not recognize this as a disease until he visited us in Kansas City." (JP90)

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to 1936

Abstract Expressionism

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