Published: December 14, 2010
The Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition “Glorious Sky: Herbert Katzman’s New York,” the first major museum retrospective of this Twentieth Century American expressionist painter, is on view through February 6.
Born in Chicago, Katzman (1923′004), rose to prominence in the 1950s in New York, where he exhibited at the Downtown Gallery and in the landmark exhibition “Fifteen Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art. Through his early career, Katzman exhibited with such major Abstract Expressionists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still, yet he remained committed to a figurative mode of painting, and most consistently, to depictions of New York City’s built environment.
“Glorious Sky” includes nearly 90 paintings and works on paper, featuring images of the city that, over the course of more than 50 years, became the artist’s enduring muse. The rivers, bays and bridges under New York’s changing skies became recurrent motifs in Katzman’s work, and New York landmarks were transformed through his pictorial technique into emotive images.
Katzman studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from which he graduated in 1946. Inspired by European expressionism, Katzman left Chicago for Paris, where he lived for three years supported in part by the GI Bill. It was in Paris that the artist absorbed firsthand the lessons of European Modernism, developing a hybrid style that combined representations of place with abstracted forms and brushwork.
Katzman returned to the United States in 1950 and settled in New York. Almost immediately his work came to the attention of Edith Halpert, owner of the prestigious Downtown Gallery. It was through Halpert’s contacts and an article in Life magazine that Katzman came to the attention of collectors and curators nationwide. Joseph Hirshhorn figured among the artist’s first patrons, and his work was acquired by major American museums, including MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.
Among the most powerful works on view are large-scale drawings from his later career, and tiny, never-before-exhibited drawings, created at the end of his life. These exquisite drawings, made after September 11, 2001, are small †small enough to fit in the artist’s hand †with extraordinary detail depicting the view from Katzman’s studio overlooking the Hudson and the site of the former World Trade Center. Precious examples of the artist’s work, they were made when his deteriorating health forced him to give up working in oils. Katzman died in his studio on October 15, 2004, a drawing of New York Harbor on the table in front of him.
The Museum of the City of New York is at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street. For more information, 212-534-1672 or www.mcny.org .
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