Abstract Expressionism

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Abstract Expressionism 1963

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)

to 1964

Susan Brockman: "When we first got together, in a sense Bill [de Kooning] was not painting. And Bill was not in the public eye. Pop art was just coming in. He was sort of being forgotten. And he was a little bit bitter. He would say, 'I don't know why they have to knock one thing for the other.' Nobody was coming around and he was quite in disfavor... He didn't take pop art very seriously. He said pop had no innocence. He used to call Andy Warhol 'Andy Asshole.' He later came to respect him, but he was not a fan of his at that moment." (DK455)

January 8, 1963: Kay Sage commits suicide.

After her husband, Yves Tanguy, died in 1955, Kay Sage became increasingly reclusive and alcoholic. After an unsuccessful operation to treat her failing eyesight she tried to kill herself in 1959 with an overdose but survived. Four years later, about a week before the anniversary of her husband's death, she tried again and succeeded - this time by shooting herself in the heart. Her ashes, along with the preserved ashes of her husband, were scattered by Pierre Matisse on the beach at Douarnenez in Brittany.

1963: Robert Motherwell signs with Marlborough - Gerson.

The gallery became Motherwell's exclusive dealer. (HM) At the time that he signed the contract he was unaware that his accountant and advisor, Bernard Reis, was also employed by the gallery.

The gallery gave Motherwell only two shows in nine years. When Motherwell decided to let his contract expire he discovered that it had an automatic two year renewal clause. If he didn't give the gallery at least two weeks notice of termination Marlborough could sue him for breach of contract. (LM67) He would move to Knoedler's in 1972.

Motherwell would later say of Frank Lloyd, the head of Marlborough, "If you are in his power, he is ruthless" and "He knows everyone has his price; Lloyd's potency is money." (LM67)

1963: Robert Motherwell visits London and Paris. (HM)
1963: The Cedar Street Tavern closes.

Irving Sandler:

"The Cedar Street Tavern closed in 1963. The entire block on which it was located was torn down to make way for a new apartment building. After that, some artists began to frequent Dillon's bar, three blocks to the north on University Place. By then, most of the earlier habitués had already stopped coming regularly - and so had I." (IS26)

1963: Adolph Gottlieb is awarded prize of Grand Premio at the VII Bienal de Sao Paolo, Brazil.
June 6, 1963: William Baziotes dies of lung cancer. (RO490)

Baziotes had been a smoker since the age of nine.

Irving Sandler:

"[William Baziotes] was a loner. He not only lived apart from other artists, in a middle-class housing project on 125th Street near Broadway, but he was rarely to be seen in art-world venues, at least in my time. We met at Bill's apartment, where he had his studio. He introduced me to his wife, Ethel. They seemed inseparable, and I later learned they were... Bill said that the four artists he had met that most impressed him were Mondrian because of his dedication to art, Miró, because of his particular poetry and Duchamp and Ernst because of their courtliness." (IS106)

William Baziotes:

"Artists like Mondrian made modern art real for me. Before then it was like a California cult... They brought Paris over here. I never reacted against Paris. How can you react against Braque? That's silly. A good artist doesn't react to anything consciously. You go out on your own. If you are involved with your father too much, there's something wrong with you. If you are healthy, you just move away without knowing it... American painting is different than the French. It's about loneliness and violence." (IS)

c. 1963: Ruth Kligman introduces Mark Rothko to Andy Warhol (sort of).

Ruth Kligman had apparently befriended Andy Warhol after his solo show at the Stable Gallery in November 1962. According to Kligman, she and Andy (who was, of course, gay) "had a terrific crush on each other and I think that it was sexual. We didn't act it out, but we spent a lot of time together, and we would hug sometimes." (LD163).

Kligman recalled running into Mark Rothko on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 12th Street one Sunday afternoon when she was with Warhol. Ruth turned to Rothko and said, "Mark, this is Andy Warhol." Rothko walked away without a word. (LD163)

Warhol (via Pat Hackett) also recalled attending a party where Rothko was one of the guests during the early sixties. Marisol, who was with the same gallery as Warhol, brought both Warhol and Robert Indiana to the party given by Yvonne Thomas. When they arrived Warhol apparently overheard Rothko say to Thomas, "How could you let them in?" Thomas replied, "But what can I do? They came with Marisol." (POP34-5)

Early January 1963: Mark Rothko goes to Harvard for the hanging of his murals. (RO452)

The large paintings were hung in the Holyoke Center dining room at Harvard. Rothko arrived with Wilder Green in early January on the first of several trips to the university. Green had designed the interior of the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery owned by Rothko's new dealer and would help Rothko with the hanging of his Harvard murals. Six panels had been shipped to the university. Five of them were hung: A triptych (Panels One, Two and Three) was hung on the recessed section of the west wall. Panels Four and Five were hung on the east walls on either side of the double doorway. (RO452)

From Mark Rothko: A Biography by James E.B. Breslin:

"When the room was remodeled in early 1963, Rothko had the wooden walls covered with 'a medium to dark olive-green fabric,' a color he selected only after 'he struggled and struggled and struggled,' according to Wilder Green. The color was a 'strange' choice, but 'I think he felt that it was kind of an opposite to the color of at least some of the murals. He wanted to be sure that it was in no way chic. He wanted it to be sort of gritty.' Rothko and Green also attempted to control the light in the room by installing fiberglas curtains to filter the natural light and by hanging a strip of lights from the ceiling. During the spring of 1963, as remodeling work continued, the paintings returned to New York, where they were exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum from April 9 to June 2, after which one of the panels went to the Lightolier showroom for study of the lighting. By February of 1964, work on the room was complete, except for a final visit from Rothko for a final adjustment of the lights.

Yet, even at the end of this process, Rothko 'was very unsatisfied with the whole thing,' Green said. The lighting was impossible to control, the ceiling too low, and the room too 'crowded' with furniture. 'He would have liked nothing in the room, basically, except a bench where you could go and study the murals'... Today, the western dining room in the Holyoke Center penthouse has been converted into offices for the Harvard Real Estate Corporation and the paintings, irreparably damaged, have been placed, permanently in the basement of the Fogg Museum, in Dark Storage." (RO454)

Rothko completed a total of seven panels for the Harvard project. The two not hung at the the university are at the National Gallery. (RO649n20)

February 1963: Harold Rosenberg praises Barnett Newman in Vogue magazine.

Harold Rosenberg's biographical essay "Barnett Newman, A Man of Controversy and Spiritual Grandeur," appeared in the February issue of Vogue. (MH)

March 5, 1963: "Pop Art - Cult of the Commonplace" is published in Time magazine.

The article noted of the new Pop Art, "symposiums discuss it; art magazines debate it; galleries compete for it. Collectors, uncertain of their own taste, find pop art paintings ideal for their chalk-walled, low ceilinged $125,000 co-op apartments in new buildings on Park Avenue." (RO429)

March 31 - May 12, 1963: The renovated Jewish Museum opens with a Robert Rauschenberg retrospective.

New York School artist Robert Rauschenberg's first retrospective exhibition took place when he was only thirty-seven years old. (RO429) The retrospective consisted of works from 1949 - 1962. (MK324)

March 1963: Willem De Kooning moves back in with Joan Ward and their daughter Lisa in the Springs.

From de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan:

"The scruffy look of Springs suited de Kooning. 'Snob Hill [his name for the old-money Lily Pond Lane area of East Hampton] is really nice too,' de Kooning said, 'but the trees have already grown up there and it looks like a park - it makes me think of people in costume and Watteau.' ... 'For a painter like myself it is so much better to be surrounded by a small nature,' he wrote in a letter. 'Places like the Grand Canyon would frighten me to death.' ...

If there was no Cedar in the Springs, de Kooning still found many old friends from the city. By the early sixties some 'old-timers' - as de Kooning called them - and many Ninth and Tenth Street artists lived in the neighborhood, either as full-time residents or as weekenders and summer residents, among them John and Rae Ferren, James and Charlotte Brooks, Saul Steinberg and Hedda Sterne, Nicholas Carone, Conrad Marca-Relli, and Ibram and Ernestine Lassaw. Philip Pavia was often there, and Rosenberg had a summer house just off Accabonac Road...

The one-car garage behind the house, where he had worked off and on since Joan and Lisa moved to the Springs in the summer of 1962, served as his makeshift studio. The space was cramped... still, the studio alone did not explain the small scale of the pictures he began to make in the garage, for he had worked in cramped studios before and made large, ambitious works there, such as Excavation and Woman I... the most important work to emerge that spring and summer, Clam Diggers, was tiny. Just twenty by fourteen inches and painted on paper mounted on composition board, Clam Diggers was nothing less than a rococo idyll, a dream of Eden encapsulated in the water figures of two women in the sunshine.. de Kooning later said of Clam Diggers and the paintings that followed, 'I try to free myself from the notion of top and bottom, left and right, from realism! Everything should float. When I go down to the water's edge on my daily bicycle ride I see the clam diggers bending over, up to their ankles in the surf, their shadows quite unreal, as if floating. This is what gave me the idea.'" (DK448-50)

April 9 - June 2, 1963: Mark Rothko's Harvard murals are exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum.

After the exhibit, one of the panels went to the Lightolier showroom for the study of lighting. (RO454)

May 19 - Sept. 15, 1963: "Toward a New Abstraction" at the Jewish Museum. (IS274)

Organized by Alan Solomon, the show consisted of 47 works by nine artists: Paul Brach, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, George Ortman, Raymond Parker, Miriam Schapiro, Frank Stella and Morris Louis.

From the Time magazine review ["Second-Generation Abstraction" May 24, 1963]:

"Although it makes them writhe, they are called "hard edge" painters. Among artists of the New York school, the term separates them from the earlier, fast-draw action abstractionists, who painted with splatter, splash or broad-brush lunge. These second-generation abstractionists strive for a well-wrought finish, rather than a random record of trial and error. Manhattan's revamped Jewish Museum this week opens an instructive show called "Toward a New Abstraction," with 47 works by nine of these artists... The so-called "hard edge" artists believe that they are reaching for a new classicism. They refer to their work as "high art," as opposed to "pop art." In their self-conscious striving, their purity is strikingly mannerist and overrefined. Colors run contrary to esthetic handbooks, forms repeat until they become rote, composition is twisted out of balance. But for some time, the public has been feeling cheated by artists painting for themselves rather than for the viewer. However unsettling, the new abstractionists paint for the viewer..."

Summer 1963: Robert Motherwell spends the summer in Provincetown. (HM)
June 10, 1963: Mark Rothko signs with the Marlborough Galleries. (RO639n17)

Rothko sold 15 works (ten oils on canvas, two "large oil on paper" and three "small oil in paper") to the gallery for just under $148,000, with the works to be marked up 40 percent and the payments to be made in four annual installments beginning January 2, 1965 with the first payment of $39, 916.50.

In a separate contract Rothko gave the gallery the exclusive right to sell, reproduce and exhibit his work outside the United States for five years. He agreed not to take on a U.S. dealer for at least one year and to sell paintings at no less than the Marlborough price for comparable works and to stipulate that buyers could not resell outside the U.S. for five years. (RO442)

The ten oil paintings were: Red and Black (1960), Mauve and Orange (1961), Brown Red Black (1959), Orange Brown (1963), Orange Red and Red (1962), Orange Red Yellow (1956), Orange Red Yellow (1961), Blue Orange Red (1961), Green Red Blue (1955), Blue and Gray (1962). The works on paper were not specified. (RO646n114)

End Summer 1963: Willem de Kooning begins an affair with Susan Brockman.

De Kooning's neighbours in the Springs at the time were two young women, Susan Brockman and Clare Hooten, who were renting the house next door. They invited Joan and Bill to a party they were having for friends visiting from the city. Bill had actually met Brockman at the Cedar in February when she and Clare were there celebrating Clare's birthday. Although Bill drank heavily during their party in the Springs, the evening passed without incident. But a night or so later the two neighbours heard a noise in the bedroom and found a drunken Bill who had climbed through the bedroom window. He stayed at the house for the next few days not letting anyone else know where he was. When he did let people know where he was it was apparent that he had taken on a new twenty-six year old girl - Susan Brockman. (DK451)

Susan Brockman:

"When we first got together, in a sense Bill was not painting. And Bill was not in the public eye. Pop art was just coming in. He was sort of being forgotten. And he was a little bit bitter. He would say, 'I don't know why they have to knock one thing for the other.' Nobody was coming around and he was quite in disfavor... He didn't take pop art very seriously. He said pop had no innocence. He used to call Andy Warhol 'Andy Asshole.' He later came to respect him, but he was not a fan of his at that moment." (DK455)

De Kooning ended up moving in with Susan and Clare without telling Joan Ward who heard about it from others. After the rental period was up on Susan and Clare's house, de Kooning and Brockman first moved to a tiny summer cottage on Barnes Landing and then to a nearby house owned by Berenice D'Vorazon, a painter and friend of Joan's. After Berenice asked them to leave they ended up at the house of Frederick Kiesler. After a brief stay in Kiesler's house they rented, in early November, the house of John and Rae Ferren on Springs - Fireplace Road. Ferren eventually asked the couple to leave and they moved to a tiny cottage next door owned by an elderly couple which ended after a month or so. Rae Ferren recalled, "He ruined the place. Throwing up all over things. It was a real disaster." In about the spring of 1964, De Kooning and Susan eventually ended up renting a house owned by Nicholas Carone and his wife, Adele, for a year on Three Mile Harbour Road, not far from de Kooning's new studio on Woodbine Drive. (DK453/457/463) Brockman and de Kooning would continue their relationship until late summer 1965 when Brockman moved back to new York - although they remained in contact after they split up, with Brockman visiting de Kooning in the winter of 1965 and de Kooning giving her an Abercombie and Fitch coat as a gift for Christmas the following year. (DK479)

August 31, 1963: Christopher Rothko is born to Mark and Mell Rothko. (RO431)
September 1963: Barnett Newman writes foreword for inaugural exhibition at Betty Parson's new gallery.

Betty Parsons new gallery was located at 24 West 57th Street. The inaugural exhibition was Amlash Sculpture from Iran. Barnett Newman wrote the foreword for the catalogue. (MH)

September 1963: Barnett Newman visits Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) studio.

Tatyana Grosman had invited Newman earlier in the year to make an edition of prints at ULAE on Long Island. Over the summer Newman worked on lithography stones in his studio. (MH)

September 20, 1963: Life magazine proclaims Pop Art a best-seller in the art market.

The article "More Buyers Than Ever Sail into a Broadening Market" noted that the art market had resurged showing a "trend toward artists who paint recognizable objects" with Pop Art referred to as "the newest best-seller." (RO430)

c. November 1963: Barnett Newman's Model of a Synagogue is exhibited at the Jewish Museum.

Barnett Newman was the only non-architect included in the exhibition "Recent American Synagogue Architecture," organized by Richard Meier. With the assistance of Robert Murray, Newman made a model of his design which he described by referencing baseball.

Barnett Newman:

"Here in this synagogue, each man sits, private and secluded in the dugouts, waiting to be called, not to ascend a stage but to go up on the mound, where... he can experience a total sense of his own personality before the Torah and His Name." (MH)

Mid-November 1963: Marlborough Fine Art Ltd. opens its New York branch - the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery.

Ralph Colin, the head of the Art Dealers Association of America, was involved in the negotiations leading to the formation of the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery and their roster of artists. Colin had founded the Art Dealers Association in 1962 whose stated purpose was to "promote the interests of persons and firms dealing in works of fine art and to improve the stature and status of the fine arts business and to enhance the confidence of the public in responsible fine arts dealers." (LM57) Colin had also been appointed the executor for art dealer Otto Gerson after Gerson died in 1960. Colin had previously served as the executor for art dealer Curt Valentin after his death in 1954 and had sold part of Valentin's collection to Gerson. According to Lee Seldes in The Legacy of Mark Rothko, "Colin served as the matchmaker between the Gerson gallery and, as he described Lloyd and [Lloyd's business partner] Fischer, 'the men who built Marlborough Fine Art,' creating the Marlborough-Gerson Gallery. For a reportedly bargain price, Lloyd took title to the stock from the [Gerson] estate, signed [David] Smith and [Jacques] Lipchitz [previously with Gerson] to exclusive five-year contracts, and cased the city for further talent. Colin became Marlborough-Gerson's general counsel and, though not a gallery officer was empowered to co-sign checks." (LM57-8)

Frank Lloyd, the head of the Marlborough Gallery, had started dealing art in the 1940s in England, gaining access to high-profile art collections through David Somerset, heir presumptive to the Duke of Beaufort. (TP) Lloyd's interest in art seemed mostly financial than aesthetic. In 1975 he was quoted in The New York Times magazine as saying "Why should an art dealer be different? If someone's a dealer, he's a dealer. Many dealers are hypocrites - they say they're here to educate the public. I don't believe it. For a business, the only success is money." (LH20)

When some of Sidney Janis' artists resigned from Janis' gallery after the New Realists exhibition of 1962, Lloyd jumped at the opportunity to sign the disgruntled artists to his gallery. (LH) Ralph Colin asked Lee Eastman, Willem de Kooning's lawyer and the lawyer for Franz Kline's estate, to arrange a dinner at the St. Regis where Frank Lloyd could meet with accountant Bernard Reis and three of his clients - Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. During the dinner Lloyd promised to "do anything" for the artists. According to Lee Seldes in The Legacy of Mark Rothko, "Lloyd pulled out elaborate folders and pamphlets showing the layouts of his posh galleries and plans for another in Cologne. But, says Guston, all this was wasted on Rothko, who for the first time in fifteen years he had known him, was drunk to the point of incoherence." (LM58-9) According to Mark Rothko biographer, James E.B. Breslin, by the time the Marlborough-Gerson opened in November 1963, "Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, Larry Rivers, and Mark Rothko, the estates of William Baziotes and Franz Kline - all Reis clients - had joined the Marlborough." (RO442) After the meeting at the St. Regis, Bernard Reis' company became the accountants for Marlborough-Gerson with Reis empowered to sign checks for the gallery. (LM58)

Lloyd tended to maximize the profits of his gallery by making bulk purchases of an artist's work - often twenty or more works per lot at a forty to fifty percent discount. The bulk payments would then be spread out over a number of years, meaning that in real terms, when inflation and the interest that the gallery earned on the withheld funds were taken in consideration, the actual cost to the gallery for the works was even less than the already heavily discounted contracted amount. In addition, the Marlborough contracts also often included a long-term exclusivity clause and, when possible, a "survival clause" stipulating that if an artist died before the contract ran out, Marlborough would still retain control of their work. (LM60) Sales of art works were often filtered through Lloyd's main company, Marlborough A.G., which at that time operated from a post office box number in Chur, Switzerland on the border of Liechtenstein. (LM60) Marlborough's bank guarantees and payments were made through Swiss banks. (LM60) Swiss regulations protecting the privacy of bank accounts and the financial dealings of companies further obfuscated the gallery's transactions which would sometimes follow rather circuitous routes via Lloyd's other European companies or business associates. The convoluted machinations of the gallery would be exposed when Kate Rothko successfully sued them after her father's death. During the Rothko trial Ralph Colin, as head of the ADAA, publicly supported the Marlborough Gallery, saying there was "no merit" to Kate's case although he ADAA quickly reversed their position after Kate won her lawsuit and Lloyd was successfully prosecuted for forgery and tampering with evidence. (LM324)

The premises of the new Marlborough-Gerson Gallery was a large 12,000 square foot space designed by Wilder Green in the Fuller Building at the corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue. (RO423) The inaugural exhibition was "Art and Maecenas: a Tribute to Curt Valentin." (LM60) So many people arrived at the opening party that the doors had to be shut, leaving many of the 2,500 guests outside. Time magazine (November 22, 1963) covered the event, noting that "gallery openings in Manhattan are beginning to rival the opera in silken elegance and the subway for sheer squeeze." During the opening party Larry Rivers was served with a subpoena from the Tibor de Nagy Gallery for violating his contract by joining the Marlborough. (RO435/436/441)

Winter 1963: Willem De Kooning retrieves his possessions.

De Kooning and his girlfriend, Susan Brockman, got what was left of his possessions from 831 Broadway and took them to Long Island. (DK455)

From de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan:

"Brockman soon became aware that, in the art world, de Kooning's reputation was declining and that he felt increasingly isolated... Brockman also became aware that de Kooning was 'financially in trouble'... That winter, he and Brockman cleaned out the rest of de Kooning's possessions from 831 Broadway, since he could not afford to keep the studio in New York and build a new one on Long Island. For long stretches of time during his first winter with Susan, de Kooning was drinking... 'He had those big, big swings in those alcoholic binges, ' said Brockman. 'It would go between elation and depression. He was really a miserable man. he was not feeling good. He was complaining.'

... Brockman would call de Kooning's doctor in Southampton, Kenneth Wright, who also helped with his alcoholism... then she would drive de Kooning to the hospital. Once released from the hospital, de Kooning typically stopped drinking for a period... But then something would happen to create stress... and he would be off again.. Once, de Kooning, Brockman, and the Lassaws went together to a birthday party. Another guest, a woman, said that she did not especially like the work of Jacques Lipchitz. 'Who the fuck are you?' erupted de Kooning, with an anger that stunned the room. 'And what the fuck do you know about the work of Lipchitz?' Then he took his hand and chopped it down on the birthday cake. Icing flew everywhere - on the walls, on the guests, and on the horrified woman.

... Not surprisingly, de Kooning did little painting that winter. Brockman said he just worked and reworked Two Standing Women. 'Not that much was cooking for him at that point,' she said. 'No one quite knew what to make of it [his new nudes] or where he was at. Because he was in a major transition, as was the art scene. They were absolutely ignoring Bill. My deepest thoughts - I never said this to Bill - were that this could have been the end of his painting.'" (DK455-7)

Christmas 1963: Christmas at the Rothkos.

Musa Mayer [Philip Guston's daughter]:

"My last Christmas at the Rothkos' was in 1963, when my son David was only two months old. Their son, Christopher, was three months old at the time. That day I remember leaving David upstairs in the nursery in the hands of their large, scrubbed-looking and efficient Irish baby nurse. To me, living on a teacher's salary in a forty-two-dollar-a-month tenement on the Lower East Side, this was inconceivable luxury. They seemed to have everything, I remember thinking at the time. Having a baby late in life seemed so romantic, so ultimately domestic and cozy. So it could happen. Artists could make others happy without making themselves miserable. And vice versa. Such a thing was possible. But then, seven years later, Mark Rothko killed himself..." (MM70)

to 1964

Abstract Expressionism

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