Photo Essays

Looking at 2011 Art Basel Miami Beach Through the Prism of One Influential Painter

Chaim Soutine, "Le faison au chou" (1926/27), oil on canvas at Galerie Thomas. (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

MIAMI — Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) was somewhat of a super star to the Abstract Expressionists. His retrospective in 1950 at the Museum of Modern Art all but gave the artists of the New York School a license to practice. Jack Tworkov, whose Art News article reviewing the show, spoke of “[Soutine’s] completely impulsive use of pigment as a material, generally thick, slow-flowing and viscous, with a sensual attitude toward it, as if it were the primordial material, with deep and vibratory color.” Richard Armstrong called Tworkov’s review “one of the earliest attempts to characterize the emerging expressionism of the New York painter in light of other twentieth-century painting.”

Soutine’s expressionistic quality and gestural swirl of paint on canvas seem to celebrate the sheer physicality of the world and beyond. A viewer of Soutine’s work exclaimed that painter virtually threw dozens of paint brushes loaded with vivid color at the canvas, “flinging them like poisonous butterflies.”

With Soutine in mind, and the world’s best galleries around me, I culled a few great works by mostly American artists from the 1950s that have Soutine in mind. There is still a healthy market of top notch works on the market.

Richard Gray Gallery had a number of notable mid-century examples:

Franz Kline (1910-1962), "Untitled" (1948), oil on canvas, 36 x 64 inches, this work is transitional work and dating number of years before his best known black and white abstractions. Yet the painting certainly indicates his affinity for broad gestures.

Landau Fine Art has this fine example of Hans Hofmann, the German-born American and teacher:

Hans Hofmann, "Purple Patch" (1954), oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches. The all-over composition is borders between playful and exact. Known for his rigorous concern with pictorial structure and spatial illusion, Hofmann's signature is the use of primary colors, their placement and relationship to each other.

Barbara Mathes had these two terrific works:

Adolph Gottlieb, "Seascape" (1952), oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
Ad Reinhardt, "Abstract Painting" (nd), oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches. Reinhardt has been described as the first important American painter who was an abstractionist from beginning to end. He was known for his humorous, actually hilarious, swipes at the art world such as his dismissal of Thomas Hart Benton as an ‘inconsequential ear of corn’ and Jackson Pollock as an ‘obscure leaf on the tree of art’, etc. Not surprisingly, Reinhardt was a controversial figure.

At Joan Washburn you’ll find these:

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) Untitled (Composition with Sgraffito II), c.1944, oil on canvas, 18 ¼ x 13 7/8 inches. Pollock, unlike any other mid-century artist approached the picture frame as an event. This work, most likely is indicative of Pollock's dreams.

… and this painting by sculptor David Smith:

David Smith (1906-1965), "Untitled (two bony figures)" (1946), oil on paperboard, 23 ¼ x 30 inches. The painting is terrific example of Smith biomorphic compositions. Even in this painting one can feel the weight and monumentality so present in his sculptures.

… and this rare painting by Ray Parker, the some what overlooked abstractionist (not the musician the performing artist and producer that wrote the theme song for Ghostbusters):

Ray Parker (1922-1990), "Untitled" (1953-54), oil on canvas, 66 ½ x 36 inches. An exhibition of Parker's work is currently on view at Washburn through January 28.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, who I once worked for, is one of the great champions of mid-century American art. You can’t miss the booth as it’s the only one with purple carpet (the gallery’s signature color). In their booth don’t miss out on these sculptures:

Theodore Roszak (1907-1981), "Untitled" (c.1950), welded steel, 27 ½ x 20 x 19 ½ inches.

… and let’s not forget this work by Ibram Lassaw:

Ibram Lassaw (1913-2003), "Act Three" (1963), copper sheet covered in nickel silver, bronze, silicon bronze and phosphor bronze, 21 ¾ x 20 x 14 ½ inches. Legend has it that The Club was formed as a result of a group of artists meeting informally at Lassaw’s studio in the late fall of 1949.

Rosenfeld is also exhibiting one of my favorite artists, Nancy Grossman, whose leather masks were recently featured at MoMA’s PS1, here is a gritty work that expands upon Soutine’s expressionist surfaces incorporating leather, fabric, metal, wood and fur:

Nancy Grossman (b.1940), "Black Landscape" (1964), 48 x 36 1/8 x 3 ½ inches.

One can always count on McKee Gallery to have a rare Philip Guston (1913-1980) or two (they have represented the artist for decades) and they certainly didn’t disappoint with these two works, one of which is fresh to the market from the Guston Estate:

Philip Guston, "Looking" 1964, oil on canvas, 67 3/8 x 80 inches (which is reproduced in Irving Sandler’s book The Triumph of American Painting) (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic).
Philip Guston, "Untitled" (1978), oil on canvas, 36 x 32 inches. Although Guston made a huge shift from abstraction to more representational imagery, he retained the gesture and the emphasis of his Abstract Expressionist roots.

The Helly Nahmad Gallery may be embroiled in a lawsuit regarding a Modigliani stolen by the Nazis, but one can find the following things worth a look in their booth:

An enormous Sam Francis, "Untitled (SF 58-247)" (1958), gouache and paper laid down on canvas, 59 ½ x 79 ¾ inches
Mark Rothko (1903-1970), "Untitled (Red and Orange on Salmon)" (1969), acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 25 ¾ x 17 ¾ inches.

At Aquavella:

Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923-2002), "Ombre d’Espace" (1954), oil on canvas, 51 ¼ x 77 ¼ inches. Riopelle was Canada's great hope for a voice in mid-century art. Riopelle began a relationship with the American painter Joan Mitchell in 1959. Living together throughout the 1960s, they kept separate homes and studios near Giverny, where Monet had lived.
Bradley Walker Tomlin (1899-1955), "Moonlight" (1949), oil on canvas, 48 x 44 inches. Bradley was one of the earliest of the Abstract Expressionists. According to Whitney curator John Baur: "Tomlin’s life and his work were marked by a persistent, restless striving toward perfection, in a truly classical sense of the word, towards that “inner logic” of form which would produce a total harmony, an unalterable rightness, a sense of miraculous completion … It was only during the last five years of his life that the goal was fully reached, and his art flowered with a sure strength and authority." This quote could easily be applied to Soutine."

At Ed Nahem:

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992), “Rufus’s Rock” (1966), oil on cnavas, 76 5/8 x 51 1/8 inches with Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), “Untitled (Head #4)” (1973), bronze, cast in 1981, 10 ½ x 9 x 11 ½ inches

Valerie Carberry Gallery is exhibiting two wonderful paintings by Judith Rothschild. Rothschild studied with Hans Hofmann and Karl Knaths, and she was a member and president of the American Abstract Artists, a member of the Jane Street Gallery and an editor of Leonardo Magazine. Deeply interested in the careers of fellow artists, Rothschild started her own foundation. She also has some lovely work.

Judith Rothschild, "Mechanical Personnages" (1945), oil on canvas

In light of the current retrospective at MoMA, I thought I might get to see a number of works by Willem de Kooning. Coincidentally, de Kooning chose Chaim Soutine as his “favorite artist,” one whose paintings “had a glow that came from within.”

At Gagosian one will find one of the best examples of de Kooning, and certainly the largest, I could find on the floor:

Willem de Kooning, "Untitled" (1977), oil on paper on canvas hangs next to a Warhol "Flower" at Gagosian. Warhol's Flowers were based on a color photograph of hisbiscus blossoms taken by Patricia Caulfield which appeared in the June 1964 issue of Modern Photography magazine. The reprinted still life perhaps has more in common with Soutine than we'd like to accept. (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Art Basel Miami Beach continues until December 4 at the Miami Beach Convention Center (Miami Beach, Florida).

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