EXHIBITIONS CURATED BY ALAN ROSENBERG

LAYLA D’ANGELO: BEAUTIFUL STRANGE STRANGER March 2016 At Galeria H2O, Barcelona
Essay by Alan Rosenberg

Layla D’Angelo’s new art works on view at Galeria H2O in Barcelona offer an invitation to the infinite.  Hints of Russian constructivism, op art and kinetic sculpture are combined in black and white wall mounted iron constructions, held together with magnets, that can be subjected to unlimited reconstruction by the viewer.  Fragmentary flat iron pieces suggest diamonds, lozenges, fishscales or jigsaw puzzle pieces, the composite form of which is never final, never reaching conclusion.  The image of the chess or checkers board is present in works that are an invitation to play: move the game pieces and plot your next move.

A closer look at the surface of the iron pieces reveals painstakingly applied minute dots of non-color which are revealed to be nail polish.  The sculptures have the appearance of pure abstractions but the artist’s use of nail polish as paint give them a literal coating of post-feminist critique.  Their resemblance to exploded patchwork quilts and use of a raw material of feminine allure suggest a subtle and simultaneous critique and celebration of women’s work and beauty culture.  D’Angelo’s play on femininitude is seen in works that appear as concentric circles, evoking the mystique of the female physical void and the feminine psychic vortex.  The constructions’  fragmentation and mutability stand in opposition to the classical monolith, associated art historically with the male presence.  

D’Angelo’s corner mounted works echo the Russian constructivist’s engagement of this previously overlooked placement: Vladimir Tatlin’s 1914 “Corner Counter-Relief” and the 1915 Petrograd exhibition of Suprematist paintings by Kazimir Malevich in which his black and white geometric canvases took on three-dimensional form through oblique mounting at the meeting of walls and ceiling.  Echoes of mid-20th century Latin-American neo-constructivism are present as well: the astute observer will notice a nod to Lygia Clark’s relational objects and flexible sculptures of the 1950s and 60s.  Even the most uninformed art viewer will recognize D’Angelo’s quotation of ultimate Op artist Bridget Riley’s stripes and spirals. Historical antecedents are apparent, but D’Angelo is not a theorist or an academic. A life devoted to creativity, beauty and pleasure has brought her art to the place it occupies today.

Rosalind Krauss observed that in constructivist theory art was seen as "an investigatory tool in the service of knowledge."  What knowledge is d’Angelo seeking to convey?  Is there even any objective truth to convey?  The title of one piece, “Chequered Life,” and it’s mutable form suggest that there is no objective truth but instead there is only subjective experience: life is open ended and art is what you make of it, literally.  In this sense D’Angelo’s constructions are Dionysean rather than Appolonian. They are on the side of subjective play, chance and the irrational rather than objective truth and enlightenment. They are subjects not objects: they are constantly subject to the absolute control of the viewer.

TIGER MORSE BY MARK SHAW: JET-SET STYLE QUEST, 1962 November To December 2015 At Liz O'Brien
Curated by Alan Rosenberg

The creativity of two remarkable personalities is on display in an exhibition at Liz O’Brien’s New York gallery this fall.  The show is a time capsule of photographs by Mark Shaw of the wildly innovative fashion designer Tiger Morse, known as much among style insiders for dropping out of the fashion business than for contributions to it.

Mark Shaw, whose photographs of Christian Dior couture and of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy have been rediscovered in recently published books, was a close friend of Morse’s.  They ran in the same circle of creative high society and both were clients of Dr. Max Jacobson, the notorious "Dr. Feelgood," known for supplying his celebrity clients (including JFK) with "miracle tissue regenerator" shots, super-charged with liberal doses of amphetamine.

In 1962, the year Shaw captured her on film, Morse was a fashion entrepreneur with a chic boutique, “A La Carte,” which opened in 1955 in an Upper East Side townhouse.  Her clients included Jacqueline Kennedy, Jean Harvey Vanderbilt and Mrs. Harcourt Amory, Jr., which led to her designation as “the design pet of the jet set.”

The daughter of a prominent New York architect, Morse grew up in Manhattan and graduated from a posh boarding school.  In addition to her background and design talent she had the advantage of her looks: the body of a model and a face of marvelous character.  Her exuberant spirit was captured in early black-and-white studio portraits by Mark Shaw, never-before-published and included in the exhibition. 

Morse traveled throughout Asia on fabric buying trips, with Shaw accompanying her on assignment from LIFE magazine, documenting her itinerary in brilliant color.  In Shaw’s photographs Morse visits a street market in Hong Kong, rides an elephant in Benares, exchanges fashion tips with a Shinto priest in Kyoto and visits waterside weavers’ compounds in Bangkok.  Multiple changes of outfits show that Morse was her own best model but Shaw’s fashion portraits of Morse’s clients, including Academy Award-nominated young actress Nancy Olson and socialite Mrs. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, show off Morse’s singular influence.      

The exhibition is curated by design historian Alan Rosenberg with the Mark Shaw Photographic Archive.  The show runs from November 4th to December 18th 2015 at Liz O’Brien, 306 East 61st Street in Manhattan. For more information visitwww.lizobrien.com or call 212-755-3800.

Photos by Mark Shaw, 1962

Photos by Mark Shaw, 1962

Photos by Mark Shaw, 1962

Photos by Mark Shaw, 1962

IMAGE AND ABSTRACTION: AMERICAN COLOR ABSTRACT PRINTS OF THE 1950S November-December 2011 At Good Design
Curated by Alan Rosenberg

In 1959 artist Lee Chesney wrote about the “magnetism inherent in the print media,” declaring that “printmaking presently occupies a position of interest among artists seldom paralleled even during the renaissance.”  Chesney, although young, was himself a leader of the mid-20th century print movement, as an innovative creator and an articulate spokesman.  One of Chesney’s most dynamic prints from the 1950’s, Pierced and Beset (an example of which is in the collection of theMuseum of Modern Art) is included in an exhibition at Good Design, a Manhattan gallery of modern furniture and decorative arts.  The exhibition, Image and Abstraction: American Color Prints of the 1950’s, includes other examples that are highly regarded by print connoisseurs as well as several rarely seen works by under-recognized artists.  The show is organized by Alan Rosenberg, an art and design historian and curator.     

The prints on view represent the spectrum of abstraction at play in the postwar American art scene, from the stylized natural imagery of Danny Pierce to the vigorous figurative expressionism of Seong Moy to the chance abstract effects of William Littlefield.  Other artists in the exhibition include Barbara Neustadt, John Murray Barton, Vincent Malta, Boris MargoDimitri Hadzi and Irving Amen.

Artists of the post-war period working in print media reinvigorated a number of traditional techniques: the variety of methods on display include engraving, etching, woodcut, lithography and cellocut.  Danny Pierce’s Fish In Nets 2 is a technically outstanding example that was described in Art News in 1953 as “a skillful application of soft-ground and aquatint for decorative textures and etching and engraving for calligraphic detail.”  A 1958 article on Seong Moy’s wood block technique explained that the artist “builds and coordinates each color and maps out his blocks by painting on sheets of transparent celluloid.”  Perhaps the most innovative technique was the Cellocut, invented by Boris Margo, in which a varnish of celluloid dissolved in acetone is applied to a flat surface (wood, copper, masonite), manipulated by the printmaker and printed as a relief block or intaglio. Margo’s print From Meteorites exhibits vivid color and subtle texture in an image that straddles biomorphic surrealism and abstract expressionism.                                          

The multiplicity of techniques pushed color to the fore, building on line, texture and visual depth, with a vitality that was characteristic of the post-war period.

The artists in the show were not merely accomplished technicians however.  These master craftsmen were also creative thinkers, exploring ideas such as mortality, space and time and questions of self-identity and self-expression.  William Littlefield (who was a subject of a recent retrospective at the Cape Cod Museum of Art) said of his art that “identity is the clue, through movement experienced as a metaphorical action of becoming--the process is color structure of ambivalent figure-ground integration: the [image] becomes you by its color-structure action.”  Indeed, the push and pull of his abstract imagery induce a sense of art/self contemplation in the viewer.      

Literary references are to be found as well: Barbara Neustadt’s Lotus Eaters was inspired by a passage in Homer’s Odyssey: “Now whosoever of them did eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus chose to abide with the lotus-eating men, ever feeding on the lotus and forgetful of his homeward way.”

Barbara Neustadt, Lotus Eaters, 1957

Barbara Neustadt, Lotus Eaters, 1957

Lee Chesney, Pierced and Beset, 1952

Lee Chesney, Pierced and Beset, 1952

Danny Pierce, Fisf in Nets 2, 1953

Danny Pierce, Fisf in Nets 2, 1953

EDWARD JOHN STEVENS, Jr. - PAINTINGS, 1945-1955 April-May 2004
At Alan Rosenberg - Works Of Art
Curated by Alan Rosenberg

When Edward John Stevens, Jr. was featured on the cover of Life magazine in 1950 he was only 27 years old.  He was chosen for the cover as an outstanding representative of the up-and-coming painters whose works were shown in an article titled “Nineteen Young American Artists.”  At that time Stevens had already had one-man museum exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art (1948) and the Honolulu Academy of Art (1947) as well as six one-man shows at the Weyhe Gallery in Manhattan.  He went on to have 24 one-man gallery exhibitions and his works were acquired by many museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Stevens lived and worked in New Jersey throughout his life, studied art at the State Teachers College in Newark and received a Master's degree from Columbia University

From the time of his first exhibition, Stevens enjoyed the enthusiastic patronage of a wide variety of art collectors.  Among the distinguished art patrons who acquired his work were Roy Neuberger, whose collection forms the Neuberger Museum in Purchase, New York, and Joseph Hirshhorn, who bought at least nine works and whose collection is housed in the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.  Fleur Cowles, revered tastemaker and editor of Flair, was a fan of Stevens' work, which she published in the magazine in December 1950.  In November 1950 she wrote to Stevens, praising his paintings:

I have long admired your work, and pounced on the opportunity to publish it in FLAIR . . . About two years ago I practically tore your picture off the wall of the Art Institute of Chicago . . . It has a dominant place in my rather large collection of paintings at home and it never fails to cause widespread comment, and all good.

Stevens’ strange and delightful works depicted imaginary scenes of archaic cultures adorned with primitive symbols, fantastic interpretations of flowers and animals, and glistening, jewel-like landscapes and town-scapes.  Stevens was a master of gouache (opaque watercolor) with which he rendered his vibrantly colored and meticulously detailed visions.  Describing Stevens' gouache paintings, fellow artist and art critic Michael Lenson wrote, in 1955, of the “golden threaded tapestry of his painting technique."

Many critics observed that Stevens was able to adroitly meld a number of aspects of contemporary and ancient art.  Jo Gibbs, writing in the Art Digest in 1947 wrote that "this young artist has absorbed more influences than one would think was possible--African primitive, Mayan, Byzantine, Cubism, Braque, Klee and Chagall, to name a few--and yet has come through with something that is strictly Stevens rather than eclectic." 

Stevens work evolved and developed subtly over the more than three decades that he painted, however he maintained his own jewel-like fantasy style.  The decorative archaism of his work of the 1940's evolved in the 1950's towards a greater range of color and more delicate details as well as subjects inspired by places he had actually visited on his many travels throughout the world. 

Although appealing to many, Stevens' art gently drifted away from public notice by the late 1960's.  Nevertheless, Stevens continued to paint, to travel widely and he found further personal fulfillment in marrying late in life. 

With the rapidly increasing interest in mid-20th century design there is a growing interest in the art that hung on the walls of mid-century homes decorated in modern style.  There are significant aesthetic and theoretical correspondences between Stevens' art and the work of designers such as Edward Wormley and Dorothy Liebes.  Their syncretic, multi-cultural modernism is part of the "big picture" of mid-20th century art and design.  Stevens' art is unique, in its exquisite aesthetic, but is also part of that bigger mid-century cultural picture.  As rediscoveries are made and the art of the 20th century is re-evaluated, inevitably a new generation of admirers will come to appreciate the art of Edward John Stevens, Jr. For more information please visit www.edwardjohnstevens.com

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FASHION FILM NOIR: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN STUART CLOUD November-December 2003 At Alan Rosenberg - Works Of Art
Curated by Alan Rosenberg

John Stuart Cloud was born in 1914 in Minneapolis and passed away in 2007 in Medford, Massachusetts.  Cloud was taught photography by his father and at Boston University where he traded his photography services for classes. 

Cloud had a lengthy career as a commercial and industrial photographer but gained a small measure of public renown for several aspects of his unusual personal life that intersected with his work. Cloud was a close friend of Norman Rockwell and collaborated with the artist by taking photographs, the subjects of which Rockwell incorporated into his paintings.  Their collaborative process was documented in articles that appeared in 1948 in American Camera magazine and the Saturday Evening Post. 

In 1949 the Saturday Evening Post reported on another aspect of Cloud's life in an article titled "Even You Can Own an Island."  The year before Cloud and his wife had purchased a tiny uninhabited island in Maine which they discovered while he was taking aerial photographs of a factory in Portland, Maine.  They built a log cabin on the island and their rustic life there was also featured in articles that appeared in 1954 in Life magazine and in Reader's Digest. 

By 1949 there was a new addition to the Cloud family: a female monkey named Jo-Jo.  Jo-Jo's antics in the photography studio and her run of the tiny island were captured on camera by Cloud and featured in a 1949 article in U.S. Camera magazine. 

In 1947 Cloud took a group of photographs as promotional tools for Thomas Taylor and Sons, Inc., a Hudson, Massachusetts manufacturer of elastic shoe goring, shoe and corset laces, braids and trimmings.  The photographs each depict a different stylish woman’s shoe.  In each image the photographer has placed a single shoe in a dramatic, fantasy setting, sometimes amongst flowers, furs and architectural fragments and under artificial moonlight.  The effect is undeniably surrealistic, with the juxtaposition of the evocative objects against moody backgrounds and the suggestion of disembodied feet.  Some of the photographs show the shoes dramatically lit against graphic, high-contrast backgrounds, set amongst props chosen for their sculptural shapes, resulting a lively modernistic impact.

The fashion film-noir Cloud created in his photographs for Taylor and Sons creates a haunting and hypnotic effect, an artistic achievement for the photographer and a commercial success for his client.

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DAVID BERGER, PAINTINGS AND PRINTS, 1945-1965 July-August 2003 At Alan Rosenberg - Works Of Art
Curated by Alan Rosenberg

When David Berger died in 1966, at 46 years old, he left behind a beloved wife, two little daughters and a wondrous legacy of paintings, sculptures and works on paper.  Although he couldn’t have intended it, the image we envision of these circumstances, the mix of family love, grief, fear, fracture, as well as joy, ritual and celebration, is depicted in his art. 

If expressionism renders emotions through color and gesture of paint, then David Berger’s figurative expressionism is a marvelous achievement in representing emotional poles: the joy of love, the terror of life, the delight of celebration and the chaos of nature’s creation and destruction.

David Berger studied painting at the Massachusetts College of Art and received his MFA degree from the esteemed Cranbrook Academy in Michigan in 1950.  His art was the subject of one-man museum exhibitions at the De Cordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, in 1954 (prints), 1955 (paintings) and 1967 (memorial retrospective), at the Cranbrook Academy in 1957 and at the Kalamazoo Art Institute in 1957.  Berger had numerous gallery exhibitions and was represented in New York by the Cober Gallery.  In 1956 Berger was included in Art in America magazine’s “100 Outstanding New Talents in the USA.”

A number of recent museum exhibitions have brought renewed attention to the group of figurative expressionist artists active in Boston in the 1950’s, with which David Berger was affiliated.  These artists included Karl Zerbe, Hyman Bloom, Jack Levine, Mitchell Siporin, Lawrence Kupferman and Philip Guston, amongst others.  “Against The Grain: The Second Generation of Boston Expressionism” was presented at the Art Gallery of the University of New Hampshire in 2000 followed by “Painting in Boston: 1950-2000” a major exhibition at the De Cordova Museum of Art in 2002.  In the same year “Color and Ecstasy: the Art of Hyman Bloom” was enthusiastically received by New York art critics at the National Academy of Design.  The exhibition at Alan Rosenberg Works of Art included paintings as ell as Berger's expressionistic silkscreen prints displayed along with furniture and decorative arts from the 1950's, as the art would have been seen when it was created.

JAN YOORS, TAPESTRIES, 1970-1977 November-December 2000 At Icon20
Curated by Alan Rosenberg

From November 9 through December 16 2000, Icon20, the outstanding website and gallery for 20th century decorative arts, presented an exhibition of tapestries from the 1970s by Jan Yoors. The tapestries were on view at Icon20’s 5,000 square foot New York gallery.  These monumental works of art, some measuring 24 feet in width and 12 feet in height, are spectacularly bold in their image and their execution. The broad planes and fragmented pieces of color in these woven paintings suggest, through abstract imagery, a world that is turbulent and serene at the same time.

Yoors, who died in 1977, was equally adept as both a fine artist and a craftsman. Although he was not very involved with the crafts scene some in the art world regarded him as “merely” a craftsman. A number of significant figures in the art world did  not make such petty distinctions, however.  The well-known critic Robert Hughes was a champion of Yoors’ work, as was the distinguished art historian E.C. Goossen, who described Yoors as “a master of what is often considered a lost art.”  Goossen further stated of Yoors’ oeuvre that “with his tapestries he made an artistic statement that thoroughly confutes the idea that such a great form of expression can ever die out--the art of tapestry has never had a more clearcut affirmation.”

Yoors tapestries were also highly regarded by modernist architects such as Gordon Bunshaft, who required large-scale and vibrant works of art for their monumental public spaces.

While Yoors painted studies and the cartoons (the full-scale guide for the waevers) the weaving itself was executed by his two wives Annabert Yoors and Marianne Yoors, with whom he lived and worked simultaneously. The family (Yoors had children with both women), their Greenwich Village home and atelier and the art they created were unconventional, certainly, but are evidence of an intense and devoted collaborative effort, undoubtedly. 

Yoors’ unusual arrangement of living and artistic creation expanded the mystique that was also associated with his name outside the art and design world.  Outside his work as artist in New York Yoors was known to an entirely different audience for his work as a photographer of gypsy life in Europe in the immediate post-war period.  While a teenager Yoors ran away from his family’s home in Belgium (his father was a stained glass artist), to live with a band of gypsies, with whom he traveled for a number of years. As an honorary gypsy Yoors photographed the Roma world.  His photographs were published in 1965 in The Gypsies, a book that is regarded as the definitive document of Roma life.

In 1950 Yoors emigrated to the US and embarked on his new journey with tapestry. His work of the 1950s and early 1960s was informed by his humanistic approach and was primarily figural and narrative.  His renderings of the human form became progressively abstracted and flattened and by the 1970s his tapestries were completely abstract, composed of interacting, fragmented color passages.  In 2015 one of the tapestries in the exhibition was depicted on a Belgian postge stamp.