Adolph Gottlieb: Artist Portrait

Adolph Gottlieb

Born 1903. Died 1974.
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Adolph Gottlieb Biography

Painter, sculptor, print maker and draughtsman, Adolph Gottlieb was one of the leading figures of the first generation of American Abstract Expressionists. His experimentation and evocative approach to painting provided a space in which both artist and viewer could access authentic emotional experiences. He developed an innate understanding of pictographs and abstract, timeless symbols to reach the unconscious, or to grapple with the difficult nature of the first decades of the twentieth century. His ardent defense of the avant-garde pushed forward modernism in America and around the world.

Born in 1903 on the Lower East Side, Gottlieb studied at the Art Students League of New York, and spent nearly two years visiting museums in France, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia in the early 1920s. In the mid 1930s, he formed “The Ten” with Mark Rothko, Joseph Solman, Ilya Bolotowsky, and others — a group that would radicalize American abstraction and expressionism. During these years, Gottlieb began to experiment with automatism and the visual and psychological work of the Surrealists. His pictographs bridged the gap between the symbolism of Surrealism and abstraction of “The Ten”. He believed the “all over” painting technique to have become too clichéd, and turned to imbuing landscape painting with his pseudo-language of mythological symbols. He continued to evolve his style for decades until his death in 1974.

Gottlieb was included in over 200 group exhibitions and had over 50 solo shows prior to his death. He was one of the first of the first generation artists to be collected by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1946, and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1948. The Whitney Museum Museum of American Art, New York, and the Guggenheim Museum produced a 1968 retrospective of Gottlieb’s career that fully occupied both museums – the only time in New York history that these museums collaborated. Gottlieb’s work continues to be celebrated today. Pink Smash sold at Sotheby’s for $3.3 million; Cool Blast sold for $6.5 million; in May of 2018, Burst II sold for $2 million at Sotheby’s. The Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, Whitney, and Smithsonian Museum, Washington DC, and every other major institution of American art or modernism include his works in their collections.

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