One such artist is Franz Kline, whose Untitled No. 11 was the Langs’ first important purchase, and whose work they often acquired from McKee. The works offered here represent an encyclopedic look at the artist’s oeuvre, beginning with an early depiction of pigeons that once belonged to the artist’s brother Jack; the birds are drawn with a strong black line that anticipates the artist’s best known works. Indeed, among others, the group also includes a characteristic gouache on telephone book paper from 1950 that perfectly mirrors Kline’s celebrated large scale black and white abstract paintings first shown at Egan Gallery that same year. Those works were famously inspired by a conversation between Kline and Willem de Kooning, who had the idea that Kline should project images of his sketches onto the walls of his studio. de Kooning, perhaps the ultimate master of Abstract Expressionism, is also represented in the Langs’ collection with the vigorous and sumptuous Figure with Red Hair.
Another artist whose work the Langs acquired from David McKee is Philip Guston. McKee maintained a lasting relationship with Guston, and when he left Marlborough Gallery and opened his own space in 1974, he did so with a triumphant show of Guston’s figurative paintings. The present example, Doyer I, is an earlier abstract work from his period of association with the New York School, and was one of 8 gouaches the artist showed at Sidney Janis in 1958. Its title, likely inspired by Doyers Street in Chinatown, is a captivating tribute to the downtown arts scene, and its composition recalls the city sky line and rooftops of the artist’s city surrounds.
No discussion of the New York School would be complete without mention of the distinguished and taste-making dealer André Emmerich, who is also represented here. Hans Hofmann’s View from the Balcony was acquired from Emmerich’s gallery following a major exhibition of the artist’s work, the catalogue for which featured the present work on the cover. Emmerich was among the first dealers to champion the second generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, many of whom he met through his friendship with Robert Motherwell.
Motherwell, too, is included in the Langs’ collection. The present example, Three Important Personages, was included in the artist’s first solo show at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery in 1944. Upon reviewing the exhibition, preeminent critic Clement Greenberg declared that Motherwell, along with Jackson Pollock, would be a defining voice in the future of American painting. In showing works by these emerging Americans alongside European modern masters, the exhibition was crucial in redefining the canon and establishing New York over Paris as new epicenter of the art world. Likewise tied to Guggenheim and her legacy is Adolph Gottlieb, whose Evil Eye is offered here. A prime example of the artist’s Pictographs, it once belonged to Karl Nierendorf, Gottlieb’s first dealer and champion. Nierendorf’s estate was bought by the Guggenheim and remained in the collection until the Langs acquired it.
Taken together, the works from the Langs’ collection captivatingly documents an electrifying and pivotal moment in the history of art. Their lasting relationships with dealers, their enduring interest in artists they admired, and their educated understanding of the dominant themes and driving forces that defined an era are all distilled into the present selection. The nuance and attention paid to acquiring not only great masterpieces, but also important works on paper and early paintings, demonstrates the enthralling passion, great dedication and academic rigor with which the Langs collected.
"I think every good painter here in New York really paints a self-portrait. I think a painter has two choices: he paints the world or himself. And I think the best painting that’s done here is when he paints himself, and by himself, I mean himself in this environment. In this total situation.”
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