Published: December 13, 2022
The art of cartoonist and social realist painter William Gropper (American, 1897-1977) whose work satirized war, prejudice, exploitation and greed, finds parallels in our current moment in history. When we learned there was a selling exhibition of his works at Helicline Fine Art, we wanted to find out more about how the exhibition came to be and why Gropper’s work is enjoying a renaissance of interest.
How did Helicline come to fruition?
We at Helicline – Roy Goldberg and Keith Sherman – are collectors turned dealers, who are still collecting. By profession, Roy is a doctor and Keith operates a Times Square-based public relations company. Over the three and half decades we have been together, the two of us have amassed a substantial American and European collection of more than 400 modernist works. Art from the WPA era is the core interest in our hearts. After every square inch of vertical and horizontal space in our homes and offices are taken, we have 50 paintings on the floor. We fall in love too easily. Obsession is another word for it. One day Roy approached Keith with clasped hands and said, “please let something go.” That day, Helicline Fine Art was born. The gallery’s name is derived from an architectural element at New York’s 1939 World’s Fair. The omnipresent image of the fair was the iconic Trylon and Perisphere. These were in fact buildings, monumental sculptures and entertainment venues. The Helicline was the curved ramp that connected the two structures. The mission of Helicline Fine Art is to connect people with art.
Tell our readers about the new exhibition?
We are beyond thrilled to present “William Gropper: Works from his Estate,” an online exhibition. Gropper is an important American artist, who’s last solo show was 34 years ago at the ACA Galleries. The Queens Museum had an exhibition of Gropper’s drawings in 2016. We are proud to keep Gropper front and center.
In this new digital exhibition, which runs through February 19, at www.heliclinefineart.com, approximately three dozen paintings, drawings, cartoons and sculptures created between the 1930s and 1970s can be viewed.
Featured are several of the renowned US Senator paintings, images of women and men working, industrial scenes, ballet, New York City scenes, social commentary and Gropper’s political works depicting demonstrations, World War II and more. Two unique bronzes, a rarity for the artist, are also available.
Has Helicline had a long relationship with the Gropper estate?
Our relationship with the Gropper estate, his grandson, Craig, emerged earlier this year in a most contemporary manner: we met through Instagram. We have followed @williamgropperart for some years and one day we introduced ourselves.
Keith sent a message to the Instagram account inquiring about buying works at the same time suggesting they look at our website. At that moment, we featured a WPA artwork exhibition, which of course is the core of Gropper’s work. It turns out that the Instagram account is managed by Craig’s wife, Michelle. She introduced us to her husband, and we were off to the races.
How did the exhibition come to fruition?
After many emails, texts and phone calls, works for the exhibition were selected. The process took longer than we thought. Lots of back and forth. The exhibition was originally planned for September and got pushed to November. And still, one important element persisted. None of us had met face to face. The Groppers live in California and we’re New Yorkers. Trust is crucial. So, Keith flew West to introduce himself, and see the art. The day at Casa Gropper and the storage unit was glorious.
This is a digital selling exhibition – can prospective buyers see these works in person?
Good question. Yes. If a client is interested in a particular artwork, we will make arrangements to send it on approval. For collectors and dealers, this is a time honored tradition. But the exhibition in its entirety can only be seen online. Welcome to the Twenty-First Century.
Why do you think William Gropper is relevant in this particular moment?
Let’s look at a few works. The first drawing to sell was a 1920s drawing “Inflation Prices,” depicting a large balloon with the title written on it dragging a figure off a cliff. That’s from the 1920s not the 2020s. Other paintings, from decades ago, depict frazzled senators and workers. Isn’t that of the moment today? There’s a drawing titled “Supreme Court.” A looming politician with a large dollar sign on his chest stands in front of the Supreme Court.
One monumental work, “Doomsday Rhapsody,” painted in 1973 shows themes of war (Vietnam), racial strife, police brutality, government turmoil (Watergate). While the specifics are different today, identical issues are of the moment. There are many more examples of art created decades ago that depict elements of our contemporary lives. This is the mark of a timeless artist whose perspectives are prescient.
Why are you particularly excited about this exhibit?
We are over the moon thrilled the Gropper family is trusting us to present the works of this important American artist. While we may not be a leading gallery (yet), we like to think we are smart dealers who work from the heart and with great passion. That counts and the family recognized that. At the end of the day we are excited about offering the paintings, drawings and two sensational sculptures. The artwork is everything. We are having spirited conversations with collectors, art advisors and museum curators.
What do you hope viewers take away from this exhibit?
We hope viewers feel amazement at the style, substance and relevance of the works. It’s astonishing how the themes in many of the decades-old works show contemporary significance. There is great energy and life in these paintings. When looking at these works an informed collector or curator can instantly recognize them as Gropper’s. That’s an important, and rare, distinction among artists.
[Editor’s note: Helicline Fine Art, founded in 2008 by Roy Goldberg and Keith Sherman, specializes in American and European modernism. The gallery’s core offerings are works from the WPA period. Located in a private space in midtown Manhattan, Helicline is open by appointment. The artworks on the site represent a sampling of available works. For information, 212-204-8833 or www.heliclinefineart.com.]
– Madelia Hickman Ring
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