Thursday, February 09, 2017

Art by Immigrants at the Georgia Museum of Art

William Keith, The California Sierras, 1875
Last week, our director of communications Hillary Brown and PR guru Michael Lachowski took us on a virtual tour of works by immigrants in our galleries to highlight their stories, from colonial times to the twentieth century. The artists include John Smibert, who immigrated to the American colonies before the United States was its own country, and Willem de Kooning, who arrived in America as a stowaway and later became a naturalized citizen and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We received requests for the video transcript, which we present as a springboard for viewers to delve deeper into the individual experiences of each featured artist.

John Smibert

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland; emigrated to the American colonies intending to take a teaching position at a new college in Bermuda; the college never came to be, and Smibert settled in Boston.

Jeremiah Theus

Born in Switzerland; immigrated with his family to the Province of South Carolina at the age of 19; South Carolina’s General Assembly gave land grants and transport funds to encourage European Protestants to settle there.

William Keith

Born in Scotland, raised by his grandparents; immigrated to New York City with his family when he was 12 and became famous for painting American natural wonders

Pierre Daura

Catalan artist who lived and worked in France, then fought on the side of the Spanish Republican forces (against Fascist General Francisco Franco) until he was wounded; Franco’s government revoked his Spanish citizenship; his American wife became ill in 1939, and while they were getting her medical treatment in the United States, World War II broke out; he and his daughter became naturalized American citizens in 1943.

O. Louis Guglielmi

Born in Cairo to Italian parents; his father was a professional violinist and the family traveled frequently; in 1914, they moved to the Italian slum in Harlem, NYC; he often painted scenes of the poverty he saw there.

Jan Matulka

Born in Bohemia (now part of Czechoslovakia) and emigrated to the Bronx as a child, with his family; “Between 1917 and 1918 Matulka traveled around the United States and the Caribbean as the first recipient of the Joseph Pulitzer National Traveling Scholarship, painting as he went. While in the Southwest he became one of the first modern artists to portray the Hopi snake rain dance.” He was “one of the first artists to bring avant-garde painting methods to the States.”

Ben Shahn

Born in what is now Lithuania; his father was exiled to Siberia for “possible revolutionary activities” in 1902, but fled, and the family immigrated to Brooklyn in 1906; he worked for the Farm Security Administration during the Depression, alongside Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange; with his wife, he painted murals for the Bronx post office inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “I See America Working.”

Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt

Born in Sweden and emigrated to the US with his family when he was a child; he registered for the draft during World War I and supervised the camouflage of merchant ships in San Francisco; he is well known for his paintings of New Mexico’s indigenous culture.

Willem de Kooning

One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Willem de Kooning was born in the Netherlands and immigrated to the United States as a stowaway on an English ship bound for Argentina, seeking the American dream; he worked for the Federal Art Project during the Depression but had to stop because he was not an American citizen; he was naturalized in 1962 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

Philip Guston

Born in Montreal, Canada, where his Ukranian Jewish parents had fled to escape persecution. He moved with his family to Los Angeles as a child, where they encountered further persecution, by the Ku Klux Klan, and his father hanged himself. In 1931, Guston and the artist Reuben Kadish painted a mural to raise money for the defense of the young African American men known as the Scottsboro Boys, unjustly accused of raping two white women on a train. The Los Angeles police defaced the mural but were found not guilty. Guston worked for the Works Progress Administration, painting a post office mural in Commerce, Georgia, then turned to abstraction before formulating a new style of representational art that remains influential even in the 21st century.

Ilya Bolotowsky

Born to Jewish parents in St. Petersburg, Russia. He immigrated to the United States in 1923, settling in New York City. He is well known for his geometric abstractions and for cofounding the group American Abstract Artists.

Arshile Gorky

Born Vostanik Manoug Adoian, in Khorgom, in the Ottoman Empire; he fled the Armenian Genocide at the age of 13 and emigrated to the United States a few years later; he was one of the first artists employed by the Works Progress Administration, and his work was extremely influential on the abstract expressionists and others.

Hans Hofmann

Born in Bavaria, where he worked as a scientist and engineer until he immigrated to the United States in 1932; in New York City, he taught at the Art Students League, then left to found his own schools, where he shaped dozens of well-known artists, including Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler.

Hedda Sterne

Born in Bucharest, Romania, and narrowly escaped from the Nazis in 1941, when she fled to New York City. In 1944, she married the artist Saul Steinberg and became a US citizen. She was the only woman in the famous photograph of the Irascibles in Life magazine.

Mark Rothko

Born in the Russian Empire, in what is now Latvia, into a Jewish intellectual family; worried that his older sons were about to be drafted into the Russian army, Rothko’s father immigrated to the United States, and Mark, his mother, and his sister followed shortly thereafter; he began pursuing art in the 1920s, when he took classes at the Art Students League, in New York City, and met Gorky; he became a US citizen in 1938, fearing that the Nazi influence in Europe would lead to the deportation of Jews in America, and changed his name from Rothkowitz to Rothko.

Jimmy Ernst

Born in Cologne, Germany, to surrealist painter Max Ernst and Luise Straus, a well-known Jewish intellectual; in February 1933, a month after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, the SS searched her apartment; Jimmy went to live with his grandfather and immigrated to NYC in 1938; he successfully petitioned for the release of his father from internment, but his mother was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died.

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