Saturday, August 22, 2015


On view through Tomorrow, Sunday, August 23, 2015

Allentown Art Museum
31 North Fifth Street, Allentown, PA

How is it possible? The summer is nearly over and so is the Baziotes show!

The museum notes “Baziotes (1912-1963) was an important contributor to Abstract Expressionism who also upheld the mysterious, dreamlike, and poetic aspects of Surrealism.”

In the Reading Eagle art critic Ron Schira wrote “This impressive exhibition of Baziotes' early work offers insight toward understanding his enigmatic later work; the pieces are painted lightly but the subject matter is dark in a bold, tragicomic irony.”

Figure with Sunlamp, 1936-39

These drawings are early, 1936 to 1939. They are pre-Abstract Expressionism and pre-World War II. It is Surrealism of swimmers menaced by lightening, bulls raising their fists, and struggling pictographs. Sometimes, however, there is a bizarre joie de vivre: sunbathing girls with multiple body parts on city rooftops. The frequent use of gouache adds brightness and intense color.

Greek-American William Baziotes (1912-1963) was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania, where an early mentor was the poet Byron Vazsakas. In 1931 Baziotes saw an exhibition of work by Henri Matisse at the Museum of Modern Art. It was a defining experience and he moved to New York City in 1933. He attended the National Academy of Design and worked with Charles Curran, Ivan Olinsky, Gifford Beal, and Leon Kroll. He graduated in 1936 and then worked on the Works Progress Administration. He was a teacher at the Queens Museum of Art, 1936-38, and an easel painter, 1938-40. 

Baziotes around 1940
In 1936 Baziotes met the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico and he showed his work for the first time, at a group show at the Municipal Art Gallery. By 1940 he knew Jimmy Ernst, Gordon Onslow-Ford, Gerome Kamrowski, Andre Masson, Roberta Matta, and Jackson Pollock. Also in 1940 Baziotes exhibited with the surrealists in a group show at the New School.

Baziotes attended Stanley William Hayter’s printmaking studio, Atelier 17, which opened its New York venue in 1940. It was a gathering place for the European ex-patriots and the American modernists; automatism was a frequently used technique and subject of endless discussion. The work Collaborative Painting, an exercise in automatism, made by Baziotes, Gerome Kamrowski, and Jackson Pollock, is dated 1940-41.

In 1941 Baziotes married Ethel Copstein; they lived in Morningside Heights. Also that year Matta introduced Baziotes to Robert Motherwell. In 1942, at the invitation of Masson, Baziotes showed with Motherwell and David Hare in the First Papers of Surrealism show at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion. However, he was gradually drawn to abstraction and eventually became one of The Irascible Eighteen (artists who protested the more traditional views of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Baziotes’ first one-man show was at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Gallery in 1944. A show in 1946 at the Kootz Gallery established representation that continued until 1958. In 1948, with David Hare, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko, Baziotes founded the Subjects of the Artist School on East Eighth Street. He taught at the Brooklyn Museum School, the Museum of Modern Art, Hunter College, and New York University.

Creature on Red Ground, 1936-39

In 1962 his work was in the landmark show Ten American Painters at the Sydney Janis Gallery. In the 1965 the Guggenheim Museum held a Memorial Exhibition.

In 2012 the Reading Public Museum held a 100th Anniversary Exhibition, and William Baziotes, A Centennial Exhibition, Drawings of the 1930s, was shown at the Susan Teller Gallery, New York, NY.

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