The Bowery Gallery is honored to have Martica Sawin as the juror for our 25th annual international juried competition. The exhibit will be held August 2-20 in Chelsea, the premier art district in NYC. Opening reception August 4
Art historian and critic Martica Sawin has spent a half century covering contemporary art in print and in the classroom. She has written more than 100 essays on contemporary artists for exhibition catalogues and art magazines and has authored a number of monographs on artists including Wolf Kahn, Nell Blaine, Richard Pousette-Dart, and Yves Tanguy. From 1988 to 1994 she was Reviews Editor of The Art Journal. From 1967 to 1995 she chaired the Art History Department at Parsons School of Design and was the founding director of Parsons in Paris.
Martica Sawin is a delight to talk to; I was fortunate to talk with her and what follows are notes from our conversation.
Sawin’s passion for art started in childhood when new neighbors moved a truck full of Reginald Marsh paintings into the house next door. She painted during high school and college, even winning a national prize, but settled for a job at the Museum of Modern Art when she graduated in 1950. When she reflects on this period she mentions that there was a Matta painting hanging over her desk. This was her first exposure to Matta and Surrealism which resurfaced many years later when she found the archives of one of the Surrealists who had emigrated to the United States during the Second World War. The result was the preeminent book on the Surrealist artists in New York and Mexico during the Second World War, Surrealism in Exile and the beginning of the New York School.
Kurt Seligmann’s Passport
Sawin feels a special connection to the second generation “New York School” painters, many of whom she knew personally: Leland Bell, Robert De Niro Sr, Rosemarie Beck, Nell Blaine, Al Kresch, Louisa Matthiasdottir, among others. Some of these painters had studied with Hans Hofmann and were exploring ways to reconcile abstract principles with representational painting. Their direction differed from that of the Abstract Expressionists, although their emphasis on painterly execution had something in common with the gesturalism of Action Painting. Sawin points out that they believed there could be a dialogue between abstraction and representation and she tells of Nell Blaine, a painter of landscapes and vases of flowers, who, visiting the Museum of Modern Art, said “It all goes back to Mondrian.” This was a way to explain the value these second generation painters put on strong abstract structure while painting from life. She regrets that history has not paid more attention to these artists , perhaps because they evolved as strong independent painters who paid no attention to the fashions of the day. Sawin feels that this period of painterly figuration is a missing link in art history.
Nell Blaine, Interior
Sawin has a great curiosity about art and sees as many shows as she can. “With art,” she said, “there is always something to learn!” Of the current art scene, she says there are many things going on and it’s as if these many strands weave together into a fabric, which is the art of our time.
During our conversation Ms Sawin talked about how she approaches a work of art. She said that she wants to take each artist on their own merit. She tries to understand what they are trying to do and to evaluate how well the intention comes through. Above all, she is interested in what an individual artist is trying to say.
Artists with their work – Bowery Gallery 2014 Juried show. Watch for a new blog with the 2016 artists. Coming soon!
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“One is impelled to do what one does by faith, every stroke of the brush is by faith, by conviction, one must love one’s work above all else, as a painter. One must intensely relate his experience of the past with the present”.
—-John Heilker from one of his letters, shared in a gallery talk given by Martica Sawin and Patricia Bailey, on the occasion of the solo show of John Heliker’s works at the Courthouse Gallery on Cranberry Island in 2014.
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