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Adolph Gottlieb

/Works and biography

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Floating, 1945
Oil, gouache and casein on canvas, 81 x 63,5 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice.
Anonymous gift, 2011.1


In the early 1940s, Adolph Gottlieb was one of several American artists who responded to the horrors of the Second World War by turning to archaic myth and so-called primitive art. Dismissing the reigning schools of American painting as provincial and inadequate to the historical moment, yet wishing to forge a path distinct from European Surrealism, Gottlieb found in the tribal art of Africa, Oceania, and North America a model for the expression of essential, universal truths. His belief in a “global language of art” lay behind the series of paintings he initiated in 1941, his Pictographs, which he continued until the end of the decade. Floating belongs to this series, despite the absence of the characteristic grid. The floating and standing creatures evade naming or identity. Nevertheless they have a crafted, decorative variety evocative of charms and fetishes in American Indian culture. Gottlieb was familiar with such things from his visits to Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and from the collections at the former Museum of the American Indian in New York (now part of the Smithsonian Museums in DC) and at the American Museum of Natural History. In addition, The Brooklyn Museum was not far from Gottlieb's home in the 1930s and 40s, with one of the premier collections of Native American objects and totem poles which were exhibited as art objects. Above all, however, a focused look at the forms in Floating reveal that they have not been drawn or modeled, but conjured up almost miraculously from clusters of colors, planes and textures. Floating exemplifies Gottlieb’s consummate skill in the craft of painting. Floating was painted in 1945, a year in which Peggy Guggenheim showed work by Gottlieb in the ‘Autumn Salon’ at her Art of This Century gallery (6 – 29 October).

credits: Hangar Design Group