Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Venus of 23rd Street and the TEN

Joseph Solman, one of New York’s best and now nearly legendary painters, turns 98 this year. I don’t know if he still paints. The last thing I read about him was a 1999 New York Times article by Michael Kimmelman, which reported that the then-90-year-old artist was still working away in a “cluttered studio above the Second Avenue Deli in the East Village of Manhattan.” Indeed, as I have been glad to ascertain, the artist’s name does appear in small print on the tenant register of the building’s facade. It’s a humble reference for a fabulously gifted yet woefully underappreciated American master.
A veteran of the city’s art scene, Solman is known today as the last surviving member of the group called The Ten. He co-founded it in 1935 — along with other, mostly expressionist, and mostly Jewish, avant-garde artists such as Mark Rothko (still Marcus Rothkowitz at the time), Ben-Zion (previously Benzion Weinman) and Adolph Gottlieb. Some of them would eventually climb to stardom, but in those early days they were underdogs, dissenters from the mainstream academism and from “regionalists,” like Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. In five year’s time, “The Ten” would part ways: Rothko and Gottlieb abandoned figuration for a new style, Abstract Expressionism. Solman, however, was more complex. Trying to fuse cubist-surrealist-abstract elements with representationism, he arrived at a profoundly innovative vision — but one that, precisely due to its complex originality, was eclipsed by Rothko’s subtle but more radical and thus easier-to-assimilate abstraction.(more from Forward)

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