Untitled Miami Beach | December 6 – 10, 2017
Eric Firestone Gallery is pleased to announce its participation in “Untitled,” Ocean Drive andMiami Beach, (December 6-10, 2017), with a presentation of historic abstraction from the 1950s through the 1980s. Included is work by pioneering, significant artists, deserving of re-introduction to a wider audience: Michael Boyd, Sidney Geist, Joe Overstreet, Miriam Schapiro, and Sylvia Stone.
Together, the work in this installation tells a story about “spaces between”: transitional, watershed moments in careers; working between painting and sculpture; between the decorative, design, and fine art. They are artists who used geometric abstraction to talk about experience, humanism, and difference.
Michael Boyd (b. Waterloo, Iowa, 1936 – d. Ithaca, New York, 2015) began his career as an Abstract Expressionist in New York City and gradually moved toward hard-edged abstraction. His paintings of the 1960s utilize broad fields and blocks of color. However, in 1969, his work shifted dramatically. Boyd had been working as a graphic designer and, in that year, accepted a job at Cornell University to teach design. In response to the landscape and sky of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, he began to explore gradient fields of blue, with ribbons of other colors as punctuation. Boyd’s use of color gradients and nuanced chromatic shifts would become further developed in his early 1970s work. Although his are pristine paintings, Boyd was more interested in the experiential, rather than color theory. The gallery will highlight this transitional period of Boyd’s work, when his move to Ithaca predicated a personal vision, apart from the hierarchies from the New York art world.
A similar moment in the career of pioneer feminist artist Miriam Schapiro will be made visible. Schapiro (b. Toronto, Canada, 1923 – d. Hampton Bays, 2015), struggled for acceptance within the male-dominated world of Abstract Expressionism and the Cedar Bar — nevertheless becoming the first woman artist to have a solo show at André Emmerich Gallery, in 1958. Her work of the 1950s is gestural and painterly, but also rooted in the body and experiences of motherhood. In 1967, following her move to southern California, where she and her husband Paul Brach would teach (University of California, San Diego), she developed a unique vocabulary of forms and processes. She was one of the first artists to explore computer imaging, using it to develop hard-edged abstractions, still rooted in the female experience of the body (termed “central-core” imagery). She combined this with a response to the landscape and architecture of Southern California, in paintings such as “Ishtar-Salk” (1968), which references both the Louis Kahn designed Salk Institute in La Jolla, and the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war.
Sidney Geist (b. Paterson, New Jersey, 1914, d. New York, New York, 2005) was an artist and scholar who moved between modernist, abstraction and robust female forms in his totemic sculpture. Geist was also prolific writer on art and central authority on the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Geist’s painted wood and plaster sculptures often utilize the totemic structure we associate with Brancusi, but they reject purity in favor of a more playful form of expression and lively sense of color. They draw upon a broad range of sources, including folk art and the art of Northwest Coastal Indians.
Joe Overstreet (b. 1933, Conehatta, MS) began his career in the Bay Area. He lived in the North Beach section of San Francisco, and was a fixture of the Beat scene. After moving to New York, he and his partner Corrine Jennings established Kenkeleba House, a gallery that has presented innumerable exhibitions of work by artists of color and women. Overstreet’s work of the late 1950s to the mid 1960s assimilates his interests in Abstract Expressionism, Jazz, and African-American history. Many of his paintings are direct responses to the Civil Rights movement, racism, and the history of lynchings.
By 1967, Overstreet started working with shaped canvases. He used wooden dowels shaped with a jigsaw and hand tools to make intricate stretchers, painting figures in patterns drawn from Aztec, Benin, and Egyptian cultures. Overstreet said, “I was beginning to look at my art in a different light, not as protest, but as a statement about people…By 1970 I had broken free from notions that paintings had to be on the wall in rectangular shapes.”
Overstreet was a major innovator in terms of taking the canvas off the wall. In his “Flight Pattern” series of the early 1970s, painted, unstretched canvases are tethered with ropes to the ceiling, walls, and floor. Many assume mandala-like imagery. Overstreet states, “I began to make paintings that were tentlike. I was making nomadic art, and I could roll it up and travel…We had survived with our art by rolling it up and moving it all over… I felt like a nomad myself, with all the insensitivity in America.” Overstreet’s work can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum and the Menil Collection. Since the 1960s, Overstreet has been part of watershed, historical museum exhibitions: most recently, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” at the Tate Modern, London.
Sylvia Stone (b. Toronto, Canada 1926 – d. 2011) was a member of the seminal Park Place Gallery (a cooperative run by artists including Mark di Suvero and Robert Grovesnor), the subject of three solo exhibitions at Tibor de Nagy in the late 1960s, and five exhibitions at André Emmerich between 1972 and 1982. However, her work is rarely seen today. On view are Stone’s painted aluminum sculptural reliefs from the 1980s. Stone also worked with plexiglas and metal. Her work draws on Constructivism and Minimalism, engaging the environment, its architecture, and light. Stone, however, did not employ the serial nature of Minimalism or its repeated, stable shapes. Instead, she combined materials to suggest a dynamic syncopation with unexpected juxtapositions of shapes and color.
The Eric Firestone Gallery presentation at Untitled highlights the radical, historic contribution of artists who have been marginalized in the canon, or whose work is not often seen today. Yet, we recognize their relevance to younger generations, who continue to test similar boundaries between materials, design, formalism, and content.