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Space Poetry: The Action Paintings of Michael West

November 7, 2019 @ 10:30 am - January 4, 2020 @ 5:00 pm

Free

Hollis Taggart to Open Survey of Artist Michael West,

Positioning Her Work Anew Within the Trajectory of Abstract Expressionism

On View November 7 – December 21, 2019

Opening Reception November 7, from 6:00 – 8:00 PM

On November 7, Hollis Taggart will open a survey of Abstract Expressionist painter Michael West

(1908-1991), marking the first solo presentation of the artist’s work since the gallery took on

exclusive representation of her estate earlier this year. Michael West—born Corinne Michelle West—

is recognized by art historians as a vocal and active participant in the development of Abstract

Expressionism, bringing a highly developed personal philosophy and vision to her work. Despite her

substantive participation in the dialogues and artistic innovations that shaped the movement, West is

best remembered for her intense personal relationship with artist Arshile Gorky—her own narrative

obscured by the sexism of the period and subsequent passage of time.

In line with recent renewed investigations of the critical contributions of female artists within the art

historical canon, Hollis Taggart’s upcoming survey of West’s work aims to rectify the omission of her

practice within our understanding of Abstract Expressionism. This follows the gallery’s work in

bringing to light and deepening scholarship on other 20th century women artists, including Audrey

Flack, Grace Hartigan, Kay Sage, and Idelle Weber, among others. The exhibition, Space Poetry: The

Action Paintings of Michael West, will feature a selection of paintings and drawings that spans the

breadth of West’s production, from the early 1940s through the 1980s. It is accompanied by an essay

exploring the trajectory of West’s practice, written by art historian Ellen G. Landau. Space Poetry will

be on view at the gallery’s W. 26th Street location through December 21, 2019.

Born in Chicago and raised in Ohio, West moved to New York in 1932, where she became a member

of Hans Hofmann’s first class at the Art Students League. Hoffman’s teachings on the “inner eye” and

emphasis on capturing the essence of things would serve as a fundamental tenet of West’s work

throughout her career. Shortly thereafter, in 1935, she was introduced to Arshile Gorky, with whom

she developed a relationship that would last for nearly a decade. Her visits to Gorky’s studio would

also prove essential to West’s development of her own stylistic approach. Her prolific writings on

their discussions of art as well as their correspondence—which is retained in part in her estate—

captured the philosophical underpinnings of her work, providing essential context for the reexamination

of her career.

Although Gorky tried to convince West to marry him, she declined, citing her drive and desire for a

career of her own. In 1939, West, who was determined to find artistic success despite her gender,

began using the masculine name, Mikael West, later shifting to Michael West and joining other

female Abstract Expressionists like George (Grace) Hartigan and Lee (Lenore) Krasner. While West

had taken to heart Hofmann’s commitment to drawing out the internal spirituality of external physical

elements, her earlier works, represented in the exhibition by Egian Girl (1942), retained the color and

form developed by the earlier generation of Cubist artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris.

In the mid 1940s, several important threads within West’s learnings and experimentations coalesced

into what would become the vision and approach that would guide her work from the next several

decades. At this time, West began to experiment more with free-form gesture, taking cues from the

all-over paintings of Jackson Pollock and developing entirely abstract compositions of her own. An

avid reader throughout her life, West, concurrently became engaged with Art and Poetry, a book by

French philosopher Jacques Maritain, which evoked for West new considerations of art, nature, and

spirituality. These formal and philosophical elements—supported by her time under Hofmann’s

tutelage— then further fused with her belief in the importance of the contemporary moment to the

development and experience of art. She was deeply connected to current events and wrote about the

world’s happenings extensively in personal journals.

Her examination of the relationships between global events, the individual, and creative process

yielded a personal philosophy, which she referred to as the “new mysticism.” She penned several

essays on the subject in the 1940s, including a text titled, “The New Mysticism in Painting”—making

her a rare example of a woman writing on the philosophy of art during the ascendance of Abstract

Expressionism. Her works, then, from the mid 1940s through the1950s were guided by this vision and

were characterized in turn by both vibrant, arabesque-ing lines and sharp and aggressive brushstrokes.

Space Poetry will feature a wide selection of paintings as well as drawings from this particularly

fertile and productive period in West’s career, capturing her stylistic evolution and the power held

within her assertive gestures.

As her style developed further, she was rewarded with solo exhibitions of her work at Manhattan’s

Uptown Galleries in 1957 and at DC’s Domino Gallery in 1958. Reviews of these exhibitions in Arts

Digest, Times Herald, and the Washington Post spoke to the vibrancy, vitality, and strength of West’s

work and actively positioned her alongside some of the greatest artists of the period. The relationship

between life and spirit continued to occupy West’s works through the remainder of her career, and she

participated in a wide array of group and solo exhibitions. Despite the initial outpouring of interest

and critical support from the press, though, West would not gain much further notoriety or scholarly

assessment during her life.

In 1976, West suffered a stroke, and while she continued to paint until her death in 1991, she mostly

withdrew from the art world, exhibiting rarely. Space Poetry will also include several works from this

late period in West’s life, engaging audiences with the full arc of her practice. Five years after her

death, the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center mounted an acclaimed retrospective of the West’s

work, titled Michael West: Painter-Poet. With the upcoming exhibition, Hollis Taggart further reveals

the intricacy and depth of West’s work, providing audiences a new opportunity to connect with

West’s singular approach and putting forward another female voice that should be considered within

the dialogue of Abstract Expressionism and the modern and contemporary art movements that have

since followed.

About Hollis Taggart

Founded in 1979, Hollis Taggart presents significant works of American art, showcasing the

trajectory of American art movements from the Hudson River School to American Modernism and

the Post-War and Contemporary eras. Its program is characterized by a deep commitment to

scholarship and bringing to the fore the work of under-recognized artists. The gallery has sponsored

several catalogue raisonné projects, most recently for the American Surrealist artist Kay Sage, and has

been instrumental in advancing knowledge of such compelling artists as Alfred Maurer, Arthur B.

Carles, and more recently, Theodoros Stamos, Marjorie Strider and Michael (Corinne) West. In the

summer of 2019, the gallery announced the formal expansion of its primary market business and

focus on the presentation of contemporary work, operating under Hollis Taggart, Contemporary. The

gallery’s flagship space is located on W. 26th Street and its contemporary division is based at

secondary location on W. 25th Street. The gallery also has a private viewing and storage facility in the

neighborhood. With 40 years of experience, Hollis Taggart is widely recognized by collectors and

curators for its leadership, expertise, and openness, on matters of art history, and market trends and

opportunities.

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For more information, please contact:

Alina Sumajin

PAVE Communications & Consulting

alina@paveconsult.com / 646-369-2050

Details

Start:
November 7, 2019 @ 10:30 am
End:
January 4, 2020 @ 5:00 pm
Cost:
Free
Event Category:
View Event Website

Venue

Hollis Taggart
521 West 26th Street, 1st Floor,
New York, NY 10001 United States
+ Google Map
Phone:
2126284000
View Venue Website

Other

Artists
Michael West
Artwork Medium
Painting