Event (Nov 20): Biala + Edith: an evening of the art and letters at the Art Students League

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Biala (1903-2000) in her courtyard, Paris, c. 1965. Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson © Henri Carier-Bresson/Magnum Photos. Edith Schloss (1919-2011) at the Caffè Novecento, Rome, 2008. Photo: Sylvia Stucky


Biala + Edith: an evening of their art and letters

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

6:00pm

Art Students League
215 W 57th Street
NYC

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Biala + Edith were internationally recognized for their art and historically respected for their often vocal opinions of the art world and the players who swayed influence. Both lived strikingly independent lives and this independence was reflected in their art, which in both cases assimilated Abstract Expressionism—the movement in which both artists were deeply enmeshed. Both artists attended the Art Students League: Biala in 1923 and Edith in 1942

This special evening will feature readings of letters from the archive of each artist selected by Jason Andrew, Director of the Estates of Biala and Edith Schloss, an a illustrated purview of their work. The charismatic character of both artists will be brought to life through the reading of the letters choreographer Julia K. Gleich.

Biala (1903-2000) was recognized in France and the United States for her paintings of intimate interiors, portraits, and the many places she traveled. A Polish émigré, Biala was born Schenehaia Tworkovska in a small village of Biala in 1903. She immigrated to New York with her older brother and both would soon become active in the early avant grade artist communities of Greenwich Village and Provincetown—Biala taking the name of her native town and Jack becoming a founding member of The Club. On a fateful trip to Paris in 1930, she met the English Novelist Ford Madox Ford. He would introduce her to everyone he knew including Gertude Stein, Picasso, and Matisse among others. She remained at his side until his death in 1939. Upon her return to New York, she quickly became a leading artist in Postwar America befriending Willem de Kooning. She would continue to divide her time, living and exhibiting between New York and Paris until her death in 2000.

Edith Schloss (1919-2011) was one of America’s great expatriate artists intrinsically linked to the milieu of postwar American art whose paintings, assemblages, collages, watercolors and drawings border on the bittersweet, fragile, intimate and naive. Born in Offenbach, Germany, Edith arrived in New York in 1942. She met the socialist Heinz Langerhans who introduced her to Fairfield Porter and Bertolt Brecht and through Porter she met Willem de Kooning, Edwin Denby, and Rudy Burckhardt (who she would marry in 1946). From the onset of the 1950s Schloss exhibited regularly in galleries lining 10th Street and summered in Maine where she befriended Alex Katz and Lois Dodd among others. Separating from Rudy, she left for Rome in 1962 with her young son with plans to stay for only three months; she stayed for a lifetime. Painter Cy Twombly and experimental musician Alvin Curran became her closest friends. An avid writer, she was a critic for The International Herald Tribune and feature art critic for Wanted in Rome. She passed away in 2011 on the eve of the opening of her exhibition, The Painted Song: new works by Edith Schloss and musical score by Alvin Curran.

Exhibition News: Biala featured in "Post-War Women" at ASL

Biala (1903-2000) The Bull, 1956, Oil on canvas, 43 x 54 ¾ in. (109.2 x 139.1 cm) Collection of the Estate of Janice Biala, New York


Post-War Women
curated by Will Corwin

November 2–December 1, 2019

Art Students League: The Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery
215 W 57th Street
NYC

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In New York, Post-War Women is The Art Students League’s first exhibition to explore the vital contributions of alumnae on the international stage. On view at The Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery from November 2 to December 1, 2019, Post-War Women challenges the misperception that great art produced by women artists is somehow an exception rather than the rule.

Curator Will Corwin investigates the history of innovative art academies like The League that promoted democratic ideologies, which in turn created artistic opportunities for women of all social classes. This ground-breaking exhibition features over forty artists active between 1945-65, tracing the complex networks these professional women formed to support one another and their newfound access to art education.

Post-War Women presents work by some of the prominent artists of the 20th Century like Louise Bourgeois and Helen Frankenthaler, but more importantly it calls out the women who were not credited enough: Mavis Pusey, Kazuko Miyamoto, Olga Albizu and Helena Vieira da Silva – challenging a new generation of visitors and art students to KNOW YOUR FOREMOTHERS.

Featured Artists:

Mary Abbott

Berenice Abbott

Olga Albizu

Janice Biala

Isabel Bishop

Nell Blaine

Regina Bogat

Louise Bourgeois

Vivian Browne

Elizabeth Catlett

Elaine De Kooning

Dorothy Dehner

Monir Farmanfarmaian

Helen Frankenthaler

Perle Fine

Judith Godwin

Terry Haass

Grace Hartigan

Carmen Herrera

Eva Hesse

Faith Hubley

Lenore Jaffee

Gwendolyn Knight

Lee Krasner

Blanche Lazzell

Marguerite Louppe

Lenita Manry

Marisol

Mercedes Matter

Kazuko Miyamoto

Louise Nevelson

Charlotte Park

Joyce Pensato

Irene Rice Pereira

Mavis Pusey

Faith Ringgold

Edith Schloss

May Stevens

Yvonne Thomas

Maria Viera da Silva

Lynn Umlauf

Merrill Wagner

Joyce Weinstein

Michael West

Exhibition News: Biala opens at PAAM (Provincetown)

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Opening reception: Friday, August 10, 8pm

Provincetown Art Association and Museum presents Biala: Provincetown Summers: selected paintings and drawings. This historic exhibition is the first to focus entirely on the paintings and drawings by Janice Biala (1903-2000), which were created or inspired by her summers in Provincetown and on Cape Cod. The exhibition opens with a reception on Friday, August 10 at 8pm and will run through September 30 at Provincetown Art Association and Museum (460 Commercial Street, Provincetown, 508.487.1750 ext.17 / www.paam.org)

Organized and curated by Jason Andrew, the exhibition features twenty-seven paintings and twenty-three works on paper ranging in date from 1924 to 1985. Highlights include the earliest painting by the artist titled The Violin (c.1923-23) painted as an homage to her mentor and friend, Edwin Dickinson; Portrait of a Writer (Ford Madox Ford) (1938), who she met in 1930 and remained at his side until his death in 1939; The Beach (1958), a masterwork from the artist's most gestural period; a group of whimsical drawings of her grandnephew's first steps in Provincetown Bay; and Pilgrim Lake (1985), a pensive and contemplative painting that sublimely captures a layering of water, dunes, and the sky above. Works are on loan from the Estate of Janice Biala (courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York), as well as several major loans from private collections, The Art Collection of the Town of Provincetown, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

Mr. Andrew will give a gallery talk on Tuesday, August 21 at 6pm as part of the Fredi Schiff Levin Lectures.

An online catalogue with essay by curator Jason Andrew is available here by visiting www.janicebiala.org

 

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“I envy you going to Provincetown for the summer.
If only I had two lives—I’d spend one by the sea and the other traveling the world.”

These were the words of an artist who, at the time of this declaration, had already lived two lives: one, painting in France during the 1930s with her companion the English novelist Ford Madox Ford, and the second, as one of only a few women to gain critical acclaim during the male dominated era of New York School of Abstract Expressionism.
 
Biala (1903-2000) was a feisty and articulate painter whose career spanned eight decades and two art capitals: New York City and Paris. A Polish èmigrèe, born Schenehaia Tworkovska in 1903, she arrived in New York from her native Biala in 1913 with her older brother Jacob (who would later become the noted Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov). Opinionated and tough, the young brunette with a soft Eastern European face was a free thinker of the highest order. She had a passion for life that fueled a rather aggressive social independence. She was a true bohemian.
 
Provincetown loomed large in the life of both Biala and Tworkov having first hitchhiked their way to study with Charles Hawthorne in the summer of 1923. However, their intellectual attraction toward modernism had them rebelling against Hawthorne’s ridged traditional plein air approach. While Jack sought out the artist Karl Knaths, Biala sought out another highly respected and revered painter, Edwin Dickinson. It was through Dickinson that she received her earliest and most informed art training. Because of Dickinson, Biala said, she “found her true way.”
 
Although that first year spent in Provincetown would be the only time Biala would reside on the Cape with any duration, it would prove to be most critical in defining her path and sensibility. It was soon thereafter at the suggestion of William Zorach that she changed her name. “I decided to change my name,” she wrote, “My name is now Biala.”
 
The Cape was the place Biala returned to after a decade in France during the 1930s at the side of the English novelist Ford Madox Ford. Ford told Ezra Pound that Biala was “rather modern,” and introduced her to all the artists working at the cutting edge of modernism including Brancusi, Matisse, Picasso and Gertrude Stein. Searching for a place to heal following Ford’s death and her heroic escape from the growing threat of Hitler’s regime, Biala spent the summer of 1940 with the Dickinsons in Truro. It was there that she plotted to re-establish herself in America while vowing to return to France.

Biala believed that “all art is sensual before it is anything else. The art of painting is for the eye first and last..." It was this statement that set her apart during the rise of Abstract Expressionism. Although she counted among her closest friends Willem de Kooning, she never fully embraced pure abstraction, as the attention to subject was paramount in her work.

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She exhibited extensively in the leading galleries of New York and Paris, and following the end of World War II, she boarded one of the first passenger boats to France in 1947. Despite the bond she had with Paris she never felt bound by ties of nationality. “I always had the feeling that I belong where my easel is,” Biala said, “I never have the feeling of nationality or roots. In the first place, I’m an uprooted person. I’m Jewish. I was born in a country where it was better not to be Jewish. Wherever you go, you’re in a sense a foreigner. I always felt that wherever my easel was, that was my nationality.”
 
As she settled into her full life in Paris, Biala became the person every American artist in France would come to see. These included Norman Blum, Sam Francis, Shirley Jaffe, Bill Jenkins, Milton Resnick, critic Harold Rosenberg and the occasional run in with Joan Mitchell. And though the sea and the dunes of Provincetown and the Cape may have been miles away, they were only a step and a brush away when she was in her studio.

Biala’s paintings retained an intimacy rooted in the Old World. A sensibility that began with memories of her childhood in a Polish village, broadened by the community of immigrant artists that she discovered in downtown New York, focused by the very delicate hand of Edwin Dickinson, and lastly shaped by a calculated assimilation of French painters like Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse and George Braque.

Provincetown and the Cape were an enduring source of inspiration as the sea and the dunes were among her favorite subjects, which included the bridges and architecture of Paris, the canals and facades of Venice, and the bullfights of Spain.
 
And so she returned at intervals to traditional themes of interiors, still-life, portraiture and landscape but did so with abstract flare, and directness. As critic Michael Brenson noted Biala was “a blend of intimacy and exile."

An online catalogue with essay by curator Jason Andrew is available here or by visiting www.janicebiala.org

Exhibition News: Pavel Zoubok Gallery presents collages by Biala

Biala, Table Chargee (fond fonce a droite), 1963, collage, pencil, oil on canvas, 51 1/2 x 45 inches

Pavel Zoubok Gallery is delighted to be exhibiting once again at The Art Show (ADAA) in the Park Avenue Armory. To mark the 30th Anniversary of this prestigious fair, we will be featuring important works by the Polish-born American painter and collagist, JANICE BIALA (1903-2000).

Please visit Booth D10 from Wednesday, February 28 – Sunday, March 4, 2018.

This solo booth will feature a select group of key works from the 1950s and 1960s, making a compelling case for Biala’s inclusion in the pantheon of postwar abstractionists working in collage. Critic Mario Naves writes:

The tension between pure abstraction and the everyday accrues most bluntly in Biala’s collages. Forget Kurt Schwitter’s loving accumulations of detritus or Max Ernst’s adroitly choreographed absurdities—a Biala collage…storms with impatience; scraps of paper, roughly geometric in form, align along a barely discernible grid…The collages aren’t strictly representational, but the specificity of motif is felt as underlying structure—Biala captures its heft and integrity, albeit in abbreviated or obscured manner.

Janice Biala’s work has been exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally during her lifetime with seven solo shows at the storied Stable Gallery and in five Whitney Museum Annuals. Her works are in private and public collections throughout the United States and Europe, including the Whitney Museum of America Art, New York, The Pittsburgh Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., The National Museum, Oslo, Norway, Musée Cantonal de Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland and Musée National d’Arts Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.

To preview works and for additional information please contact Kris Nuzzi at kris@pavelzoubok.com.

Exhibition News: Biala at Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Biala, “Horse and Carriage,” c. 1983, oil and collage on canvas, 45 x 58 in. (115.2 x 148.4 cm) Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection

Tibor de Nagy Gallery presents its fifth exhibition of paintings by Biala (1903-2000), featuring over twenty works from the 1960s through the 1990s including selected works from the Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection. Harvey Lichtenstein was an ardent supporter of new talent and the President of the Brooklyn Academy of Music from 1967-1999. The exhibition will run January 6-February 11, 2018.

Biala’s contribution to modernism has been noted by critics who championed her assimilation of the School of Paris and the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. Her eight-decade career began in the early 1920s when she hitch-hiked with her brother Jack Tworkov to study art in Provincetown. A fateful Paris encounter with English novelist Ford Madox Ford led to a ten-year relationship with the writer and a life-long relationship with France. Upon her return to New York in 1939 following Ford’s death, Biala was in the thick of a milieu of the New York School, befriending painter Willem de Kooning, and critic Harold Rosenberg among many others. Biala thrived on her transatlantic life maintaining a studio in America while returning time after time to her beloved Paris.

Biala’s approach was a synthesis which danced on the lines between representation and abstraction materializing in a uniquely personal style. Intimate interiors, subtle still-lifes, portraits, and long views of the many landscapes of her various travels acted as her creative point of departure. These initial subjects characterized components of Modernist French styles such as Intimism and were translated through the gestural strokes of Abstract Expressionism which epitomized her mature aesthetic.

In addition to celebrating her undefinable painterly uniqueness, this exhibition highlights the extraordinary relationship Biala had with the director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Harvey Lichtenstein and his wife Phyllis.  Biala and Harvey were related through marriage (Biala’s sister-in-law was Harvey’s first cousin). The Lichtenstein Collection includes emblematic examples from important themes of Biala’s career, as well as a cohesive representation of the significant places the artist featured in her paintings: France, Italy, and especially Spain.

Harvey Litchenstein (seated far right) with the first artists of the New Wave Festival, BAM, 1997 (Front row from left: Jene Highstein, Kristin Jones, Merce Cunningham, Mark Morris. Back row includes Andrew Ginzel, JoAnne Akalaitis (third from left), Bill T. Jones, Lou Reed, Ping Chong and Pina Bausch (third from right) among others. Photo: Joanne Savio for  The New York Times

Harvey Litchenstein (seated far right) with the first artists of the New Wave Festival, BAM, 1997 (Front row from left: Jene Highstein, Kristin Jones, Merce Cunningham, Mark Morris. Back row includes Andrew Ginzel, JoAnne Akalaitis (third from left), Bill T. Jones, Lou Reed, Ping Chong and Pina Bausch (third from right) among others. Photo: Joanne Savio for The New York Times

About Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein
As one of the foremost theatrical producers of his time, Harvey Lichtenstein’s first Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) season included Alban Berg’s atonal opera Lulu; performances by a number of modern-dance troupes — Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham and Alwin Nikolais, among others; and the Living Theater’s evening of political protest, Paradise Now. He went on to start the Next Wave Festival where he presented important artists such as Robert Wilson and Pina Bausch. This exhibition aims to not only highlight the collection, but celebrate the Lichtensteins’ eye for talent and close relationships with visual artists.

Harvey and Phyllis not only loved the theater, but also the visual arts and amassed a small but important collection that solely included Daniel Brustlein (1904-1996), Jack Tworkov (1900-1982), and Biala (1903-2000). One historic note, for her 80th birthday Biala had one wish and it was to spend it in Seville, her favorite city in Spain. Family and friends gathered to join her there including Harvey and Phyllis. The group took a horse and carriage ride around the plaza at La Giralda. So memorable was the experience for Biala, she preserved it in the painting Horse and Carriage which would become part of the Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection and is featured in this exhibition.

Lecture: Biala: The Woman Painter Among Men

^ Photo: Rudy Burckhardt, 1956

Biala: The Woman Painter Among Men
a special evening with curator Jason Andrew

Thurs, Jan 11, 6:30pm

RSVP (seating is limited)

Art Students League
215 West 57th Street
NYC

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Painter Janice Biala (1903-2000), known to history primarily by her surname, was an integral figure in the art scene of mid-twentieth century Manhattan. Sister of painter Jack Tworkov, friend of Willem de Kooning and critic Harold Rosenberg, Biala was in the thick of a milieu that gave rise to the New York School. But before all that, she was the lover of the English novelist Ford Madox Ford.

Curator Jason Andrew will trace the remarkable life and art of Biala from her early days of hitch-hiking to Provincetown in the ‘20s, to jumping on a boat to Paris and later her dramatic escape from Nazi occupied France in the ‘30s, to her early support of Willem de Kooning and participation in the New York School in the ’40s. Above all, she left a history of painting noted for its sublime assimilation of the School of Paris and the New York School of abstract expressionism.

This lecture coincides with the exhibition Biala and the Harvey and Phyllis Lichtenstein Collection, on view through February 10 at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 15 Rivington Street, New York

Interview: Curator Diane Kelder on Biala retrospective

Curator Diane Kelder with biala's  Black Interior (Cold Water Flat) , 1955, Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of an anonymous donor [55.44]

Curator Diane Kelder with biala's Black Interior (Cold Water Flat), 1955, Collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of an anonymous donor [55.44]

With only a few weeks left to catch Biala: Vision and Memory, the historic retrospective of Janice Biala’s work at Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, curator Diane Kelder opens up about her very personal connection with the work of Janice Biala and the struggles that come along with mounting the first museum retrospective of Biala’s work.

Kelder is Professor Emerita of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She taught at Queens College from 1960 to 66; Finch College from 1967 to 1971; College of Staten Island from 1971 to 2000 and the Graduate Center from 1980 to 2000. She was Curator of the Art Gallery of The Graduate Center from 2000 to 2008 where she mounted many notable exhibitions. Her research interests include Baroque Stage Design, the art of the French Revolution, 19th and 3arly 20th Century French painting and Early American Modernism.

Kelder was the Editor of the Journal of Art from 1973 to 1979 and Acting Editor of Arts Magazine in 1988. A a well published author her publications include:

  • The French Impressionists and Their Century. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1967
  • Stuart Davis: A Documentary Monograph in Modern Art. New York: Praeger Publishers, 19712
  • Aspects of “Official” Painting and Philosophic Art (1789-1799). New York: Garland Publishing, 1976
  • The Great Book of French Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 1980 (French and German editions, revised edition 1997)
  • The Great Book of Post-Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 1986 (French and German editions)
  • Lowery Sims et al. Stuart Davis, American Painter. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1990
  • Stuart Davis: Art and Art Theory, 1920-1931. New York: The Pierpont Morgan Library, 2002
  • Jim Dine. Selected Prints, 1996-2006. Göttingen: Steidl, 2007

The Biala exhibition at the Queens Museum is somewhat of a homecoming for Kelder as she explains, “I graduated from Queens College with a B.A. in History, but was very interested in Art History. Happily, on graduation in 1955, I received a fellowship from the University of Chicago where I mainly did Art History and got an M.A. Subsequently, I received a fellowship in Art History at Bryn Mawr and received my Ph.D in 1966.”

How did you become interested in curating?

DK:  I have always been attracted to curating, and as an Instructor in Art History at Queens, in the early 60s, I organized exhibitions such as Scenes and Spectacles, which was devoted to Baroque stage design. To my great good fortune, it was reviewed in the New York Times by Brian O’Doherty. In 1966, I was offered the position of Assistant Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Philadelphia Museum –  and had the opportunity to curate four major exhibitions. However, I missed teaching, the freedom to write and being  in  New York so I gave it up and returned to teaching at CUNY.

Nancy Graves  photographed with  Variability and Repetition of Variable Forms,  1971. Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Nancy Graves photographed with Variability and Repetition of Variable Forms, 1971. Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash

In the eight years I was Curator at the Graduate Center we did 24 exhibitions, plus 7 collaborations with the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study  Exhibition Program. In retrospect, I’m proud of quite a few, but for different reasons would cite “Elective Affinities: Prints by Goya and Manet” (Spring 2001) featuring works from the Arthur RJoss Foundation and the NYPL; “Nancy Graves: Breaking Boundaries, Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings on Loan from the Nancy Graves Foundation” (Spring 2002). Nancy was an amazing artist and one of my dearest friends who left us too soon; “Splendors of the Renaissance, Princely Attire in Italy” (Spring 2004). This exhibition of  fifteen splendid examples of 16th century courtly dress was one of the most theatrical and ambitious shows we did. It featured mannequins sporting clothes that appear in portraits by Bronzino, Giulio Romano, Titian and others and for seven glorious weeks the gallery’s Fifth Avenue windows returned to the Altman Building’s original mission of showing beautiful things; Unquestionably “Technical Detours, The Early Moholy-Nagy Reconsidered” (Spring 2006) was the most challenging show we undertook. Featuring 216 sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and films it involved an enormous number of loans from private and public collections in the U.S. and Europe. I worked with the Guest Curator, Oliver Botar on every aspect of the show and our installation was sensational. Moreover, we produced a 208 page, fully illustrated catalogue that subsequently became a collectors item. I still receive inquiries from people who are looking for a copy.

Another great experience was “Jim Dine Selected Prints, 1996-2006.” Jim is unquestionably one of the most gifted and innovative printmakers of the late 20th and earl21st century. I’ve always loved his imagery and he generously designed the 148 page catalogue which was published by Gerhard Steidl.

One of the great things about running the gallery at the Graduate Center was the interaction with students in our program who served in many capacities – as Research Assistants, helping with the installations, giving weekly gallery talks. I started teaching when I was twenty-four, and I enjoyed it immensely.  Working with our very bright young scholars has given me a perspective I might not otherwise have had.

For sheer pleasure and satisfaction I would say that my most exhilarating curatorial experience was “Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920-31” at The Pierpont Morgan Library (Fall 2002). It was a jewel-box of a show, only about 20 paintings, drawings, prints and notebooks, but we produced a gorgeous catalogue and it got an extraordinary reviews in The New York Times, The New Criterion, and even the London Times Literary Supplement.

It seems like your career and the work of Janice Biala have been intertwined for some time, Can you describe the first time you came in contact with the work of Janice Biala?

DK:  I met Biala and Brustlein in l980 while I was a tenant of their friend, the painter Giorgio Cavallon. I’d seen Biala’s paintings in exhibitions at Tom Gruenebaum’s gallery and when she had the first of her many exhibitions at Kouros in 1990, I was asked to write the catalogue essay.

Biala “The Flower Pots,” 1985, Oil on canvas, 51 x 38 in., Private Collection, NY

DK:  There were a number of challenges in undertaking a retrospective. Biala died in 2000, her work was no longer with the Kouros Gallery and they were not particularly helpful in providing information about the whereabouts of works. A trip to Paris was imperative, since I needed to connect with her professional milieu and personal contacts, visit her home. The people I contacted couldn’t have been nicer including the doctor, who knew her from childhood, and purchased her home, the painter Shirley Jaffe, friend and collector Nicole Kugel, etc. It was a great experience.

The challenges came when I realized that I would have to raise a great deal of money if the exhibition were to include substantial numbers of works from Europe and collections outside of  New York. My hope that the Jewish Museum might be responsive was extinguished after three months of waiting for the “curators” to come to a decision.  The fact that my proposal to a variety of museums and university galleries came at a time of considerable financial stress didn’t help. However, the enthusiasm of the Godwin-Ternbach Museum with its two, unexpected Biala bullfight paintings, and Joseph Brewer’s friendship with Biala and Ford, was a godsend.

While we managed to represent works of Biala’s from the 20s through the 90s, the sheer difference in scale presented a challenge.

Is there any one period or aspect of Biala’s work that interests you most?

Biala was a painter of impeccable taste and remarkable intelligence, She had an intuitive feeling for composition and her orchestration of color was, at times, breathtaking. I respond particularly to the interiors, the Venice paintings, and her marvelous blacks.

What do you see coming in the future? And maybe you can offer a glimpse of a dream curation?

I haven’t any particular plans, but I wouldn’t mind doing an exhibition of some of the magnificent Baroque Theater drawings in the Morgan collection. Maybe cook up something that joins manuscripts, scores in their Music collection with the fabulous sheets given to the Morgan by Donald Oenslager, Janos Scholz and others.

Review: Biala: Courage of Her Convictions

Edwin Dickinson Portrait of Biala, nee Janice Tworkov (1924) Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm) Private Collection, New York

The New York Sun

September 17, 2013

by Xico Greenwald

Janice Tworkov (1903-2000) changed her name to Biala to differentiate herself from her older brother, Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov. The artist-siblings, Jewish immigrants from Poland raised on the Lower East Side, lived divergent lives.

An action painter, Jack Tworkov played a leading role in shifting the center of the art world from Paris to New York after World War II. Biala, on the other hand, moved to France during the interwar period, where she socialized with some of the leading writers and artists in Europe, including Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Brancusi and Ezra Pound. There she embraced the modernist innovations of synthetic cubism, making quiet cityscapes and interiors that emit the gray light of Paris.

This Queens College retrospective opens with an arresting portrait of 21-year-old Biala by her teacher Edwin Dickinson. The darkly colored portrait is softly modeled with crisp contours; Biala’s gray eyes stare out in a confident, unflinching gaze.

Next to Dickinson’s portrait are several ink-on-paper illustrations for Ford Madox Ford’s “Great Trade Route,” published in 1937. Biala met Ford upon arriving in Paris in 1930 and the couple remained lovers until Ford’s death in 1939. Notable works from this period include dizzying paintings of bull fights, arena pictures alive with movement, and a roughly drawn portrait of Ford, with hash marks over rubbed graphite tones giving the writer’s head sculptural form.

But it is after World War II that Biala came into her own. In “White Façade,” 1950, the shuttered windows of Paris’ limestone buildings are abstracted into thinly painted olive and ochre rectangles. On the right edge of the canvas a tree’s foliage is also simplified into muted green geometry, as the blocky shapes and colors convey an overcast day.

“Nature Morte,” 1963, a tabletop scene, features loose strokes of black carving out a white tablecloth arrangement. The canvas presents a wonderful interplay of negative and positive shapes. In “Table Chargée,” 1963, Biala, working in collage, uses clusters of torn pieces of colored papers to roughly describe an interior.

In the 1980s and 90s Matisse’s influence on Biala seemed to grow as her paintings flatten and objects, including cups, fruits, books and even a cat, are isolated in fields of color.

Neither during her long life nor in the years since her death has Biala’s contribution to art history received the attention it deserves. Museum Director Amy H. Winter says “the politics of gender and style” and the fact that Biala “never fully embraced the mythic freedom and daring associated with abstract expressionism” left the painter “marginalized.” Making “intimate” artworks while living in Paris “rendered her ‘other.’” For Ms. Winter this overdue exhibition “serves as a tribute to artists who, like Biala, persist in remaining faithful to their personal vision.”

BIALA: Vision and Memory on view through October 26, 2013 at Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College, CUNY, 405 Klaper Hall, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, NY, 718-997-4747, www.qc.cuny.edu/godwin_ternbach

Biala and Brustlein, a concurrent exhibition featuring works by Biala and her husband, cartoonist Daniel “Alain” Brustlein is on view through October 27, 2013, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY, 212-262-5050, www.tibordenagy.com

More information about Xico Greenwald’s work can be found at xicogreenwald.com

Exhibition News: First Posthumous Museum Retrospective Announced

Biala,  Blue Interior with Man and Dog , 1979, Oil on canvas, 64 x 51 in. (162.6 x 129.5 cm)

Biala, Blue Interior with Man and Dog, 1979, Oil on canvas, 64 x 51 in. (162.6 x 129.5 cm)

Flushing, NY – The Godwin-Ternbach Museum, Queens College, is pleased to present Biala: Vision and Memory, September 12-October 27, 2013. The exhibition is the first posthumous museum retrospective of American painter Janice Biala (1903-2000) ever held in New York. This historic and comprehensive exhibition brings together paintings, collages, and drawings from across seven decades the artist’s career from the late 1920s to the 1990s. It includes important loans from public and private collections, including two paintings from the Godwin-Ternbach Museum’s permanent collection as well as significant loans from the Estate of Biala. Additionally, the exhibition will display books by celebrated author Ford Madox Ford for which Biala provided illustrations, as well as personal photographs, exhibition catalogues and announcements that document her social and artistic circles in New York and Paris. The exhibition will also feature a documentary about Biala, filmed in  the artist’s studio in 1994. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, with an essay by its guest curator Diane Kelder, Professor Emerita of Art History at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

An opening reception on Thursday, September 12 from 5-7 pm, will feature an informal exhibition walk-through by Diane Kelder, beginning at 6 pm.

Born Schenehaia Tworkovsky in a town near the Polish Russian border (c. 1903-2000), Biala pursued a career that spanned more than seven decades and brought her critical recognition in New York and Paris. In both cities she formed close friendships with legendary figures of modernist art and literature. She witnessed the eclipse of Paris as the international center of modernism, the rise of Abstract Expressionism, and the dizzying succession of movements that radically transformed the very concept of art during the second half of the 20th century. Through it all, she continued to paint exquisitely crafted canvases in a personal style that, even now, resists classification.

On a visit to Paris in 1930, Biala met and fell in love with the British novelist Ford Madox Ford. She created illustrations and dust covers for several of his books and managed his dealings with publishers until his death in 1939 when she became the Executor of his literary estate. Returning to New York the following year, she reconnected with her brother Jack Tworkov, who introduced her to Willem de Kooning and other artists who would subsequently transform American painting.  Throughout the 50s and 60s, while spending extended periods in Paris, Biala was one of a select group of women who participated in the activities of Studio 35 and The Club and exhibited at the Stable Gallery, a cooperative that showed many artists of the New York School and enjoyed the support of critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg. She briefly explored gestural abstraction during this period, but her abiding fascination with the world around her proved more compelling. After taking up permanent residence in Paris, she continued to exhibit regularly in New York until her death in 2000. Since 2005, the Tibor de Nagy Gallery has presented three solo exhibitions that have generated renewed critical interest in her work.

In her opening essay for the catalogue Diane Kelder writes: “Overcoming the hardships encountered by legions of Eastern European immigrants and years of precarious existence as an aspiring young artist, the painter known as Biala (1903-2000) pursued a career that spanned more than seven decades and garnered broad critical recognition in New York and Paris. In both cities, she formed lasting friendships with many of the legendary figures of modernist art and literature. Tough-minded and fiercely independent, she created an idiosyncratic body of work that reflected her peripatetic life, resistance to prevailing art trends, and extended dialogue with the School of Paris. After settling in that city permanently in 1965, Biala continued to exhibit in New York. However, her aesthetic concerns and expatriate status gradually isolated her from the increasingly fashion and market-driven priorities of the late twentieth century art world. In 1989, when asked by a critic to contemplate what her career might have been had she remained in New York, she replied “If I had it to do all over again, I’d do exactly the same thing.”[1]

Continuing, Kelder explains, “In canvas after canvas, she displays remarkable visual intelligence and absolute control of her medium. If Biala’s paintings offer immense gratification to the eye, they also are reservoirs of feeling and memory, lyric affirmations of the life she chose to lead.”

A series of lectures will follow during September and October—dates will be confirmed. Dr. Kelder will discuss Biala’s themes and variations, poet and art critic Mary Maxwell will speak about Biala and the Provincetown Art colony; Biala Estate curator Jason Andrew will discuss Biala and Ford Madox Ford; and GTM Director Amy Winter will comment on women artists in the New York School in the post-WWII period. The museum will also screen the BBC film series “Parade’s End,” based on Ford Madox Ford’s 1924-28 novel about WWI, hailed as “possibly the greatest 20th-century novel in English.”

For further information about the exhibition and program times and dates, as well as upcoming exhibits and events, call 718-997-4747 or visit Godwin-Ternbach MuseumGodwin. All exhibitions and public programs are free.

By car, the Godwin-Ternbach Museum is 30 minutes from midtown Manhattan. Directions are: atwww.qc.cuny.edu/directions

About the Godwin-Ternbach Museum:
The Godwin-Ternbach Museum, a part of Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, presents exhibitions and programs that provide significant educational opportunities and aesthetic experiences to residents of the borough and neighboring Long Island and Manhattan. As the only comprehensive collection in Queens, housing over 5,000 objects dating from ancient to modern times, the museum introduces many individuals to art and artifacts they might not otherwise encounter. The breadth of these holdings, and the rich resources of the college, allow presentations that speak to the interests and needs of the diverse audiences of the communities the GTM serves. Lectures, symposia, gallery talks, films and workshops, and an active website, complement and interpret the art on view. All exhibitions and programs are free and open to the public.

For more about Queens College visit: www.qc.cuny.edu

[1] Michael Brenson, “Three Who Were Warmed By the City of Light,” The New York Times (June 25, 1989): 32.

Essay: Hurly-burly Intimism: The Art of Janice Biala

Biala,  Table Chargee , 1963, Torn paper collage with paint on canvas, 25 x 51 in. (63.5 x 129.5 cm)

Biala, Table Chargee, 1963, Torn paper collage with paint on canvas, 25 x 51 in. (63.5 x 129.5 cm)

By Mario Naves

The painter Janice Biala (1903-2000), known to history primarily by her surname, was an integral figure in the art scene of mid-twentieth century Manhattan.  Sister of painter Jack Tworkov, friend of Willem de Kooning and critic Harold Rosenberg, Biala was in the thick of a milieu that gave rise to the New York School.  While not an Abstract Expressionist per se, she was shaped by its hardscrabble verities.  Biala’s artistic process, whether embodied in zooming brushstrokes or an agitated flurry of ripped paper, is unimaginable without them.

Biala didn’t yield to abstraction.  Things in the world–concrete objects we hold, traverse or trip over–were her art’s impetus and end-point.  The ages old endeavor of working from life puts Biala’s achievement at odds with prevailing notions of avant-gardism, of forward momentum and innovation.  But looking at her pictures of unapologetic domesticity—Biala’s immediate surroundings served as inspiration–you wonder why the improbable marriage of de Kooning’s hurly-burly and Edouard Vuillard’s intimisme shouldn’t, in and of itself, be considered radical.  At the very least, it’s a tough row to hoe.

The tension between pure abstraction and the everyday accrues most bluntly in Biala’s collages.  Forget Kurt Schwitter’s loving accumulations of detritus or Max Ernst’s adroitly choreographed absurdities–a Biala collage like Vitrine (c. 1961) storms with impatience; scraps of paper, roughly geometric in form, align along a barely discernible grid.  Elsewhere, an arcing tumble of tawny swatches coalesce into a tangible shape–a seated figure.  An abrupt swipe of rust-red oil paint coupled with rambunctious shards of tan paper ultimately reveals a parent and child.  The collages aren’t strictly representational, but the specificity of motif is felt as underlying structure–Biala captures its heft and integrity, albeit in abbreviated or obscured manner.

At other moments, Biala was considerably more deliberate and the resulting images are readily apparent–a stately clatter of houses in Provincetown, say, or the blocky effigies of a pianist and a cellist in the whimsical Untitled (The Concert) (c. 1957).  Whatever speed she was traveling or however brusque the composition, Biala remained true to the world out there.

Biala’s investigations into collage would never reach the same level of intensity as they did during the years 1955-1960.  In this tight knit group of works, we see her channeling Matisse’s élan, Braque’s unassuming virtuosity and we feel her debt, grateful and profound, to Velazquez.  In each of the collages, you experience the heady excitement of an artist tussling with process, precedent and the unexpected poetry of the everyday.

This essay was originally published in the catalogue accompanying Biala: Collages 1957-1963, a 2009 exhibition at Tibor De Nagy Gallery.

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody: Paintings by Janice Biala

Biala, “Vue despuis de la Giudecca,” 1985, Oil on canvas, 77 x 59 in.

The New York Sun

December 13, 2007

By John Goodrich

One of the tangential intrigues of art is the Bohemian lifestyle that often attends it — that liberated, marginal existence that feeds upon and nourishes creative intensity. The painter Janice Biala (1903–2000) lived such a life and lived it to the very fullest.

Her résumé sounds like a potboiler: Overcoming a precarious childhood, she pursued a seven-decade-long career that spanned the art worlds of both New York and Paris, and befriended many of the giants of art and literature on both sides of the Atlantic. Generous but tough — and always opinionated — she produced a unique body of work reflecting her peripatetic life in the limpid, graceful style of French modernist painting. Her geographical and stylistic distance from the New York School meant that she never achieved the fame of some of her contemporaries, but recent shows of her work at Tibor de Nagy Gallery — where her paintings are currently on view until January 5 — have brought her some long-overdue attention.

Biala was born Schenehaia Tworkovska in a region of eastern Poland historically subject to pogroms. By 1913, she left with her Jewish family for a tenement on New York City’s Lower East Side. (The young girl was later to take her hometown’s name as her own. Her older brother Yakov changed his name, too — to Jack Tworkov.) As a teenager, Biala worked various jobs in order to attend classes at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, where she studied with Charles Hawthorne. Edwin Dickinson and William Zorach became her friends and mentors. After a brief and unhappy marriage, Biala left for Paris in 1930, where her encounter with Ford Madox Ford was to change her life.

At age 26, she was less than half the author’s age, but their romantic relationship endured until his death in 1939. For both it marked a time of emotional nourishment and artistic productivity . Through Ford, Biala met such luminaries as Picasso, Matisse, Joyce, and Pound. She later wrote that in living for Ford, she had found herself: “He found a little handful of dust and turned it into a human being.” The comment tells not only of the poignant depth of her love, but also the forthrightness of her self-image. Perhaps, though, she undersold herself: When they met, Ford, an inveterate womanizer, was in a deeply depressive and lonely state. Under Biala’s attention, he regained his writing stride, while Biala managed his contracts and illustrated several of his books. After his death, she became his literary executor, staunchly defending his reputation against the insufficient praise of critics.

When Ford died in 1939, Biala barely had time to secure his papers before the Nazi onslaught. She departed for New York, where her brother Jack Tworkov, now well-connected in the New York art world, introduced her to de Kooning and other future Abstract Expressionists. In 1943, Biala married the French artist Daniel Brustlein, best known to New Yorker readers as the cartoonist Alain. Again, theirs was a mutually supportive relationship, as Biala collaborated with Alain in two-person exhibitions and on a number of children’s books. The couple shuttled between Paris and New York for many years before settling permanently in France.

Over the years they befriended Saul Steinberg, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alberto Giacometti, and Joan Mitchell. Biala’s work, regularly exhibited in Paris and New York galleries since the 1930s, appeared in numerous museum shows. She continued to exhibit to the very end, with her final show at Kouros Gallery in 1999. She died the following year at age 97.

Biala lived as she wished — simply but thoroughly, and in the company of remarkable artists and writers. Spanning nearly 40 years, the paintings and mixed-media collages now on view at Tibor de Nagy Gallery reflect her unpretentious pleasure in her visual surroundings: the street scenes and monuments of France, Spain, Italy, and Morocco. Her admiration for Matisse shows in her simplified descriptions and planes of bright but subtly adjusted colors. In “Bateau sur la Seine” (1980), myriad grays and greens convincingly catch a river’s surface, alternately absorbing and reflecting light. Just two condensations of color punctuate its expanse: a patch of warm white, perfectly capturing a houseboat’s buoyant weight, and the rich, opaque green of a tree’s foliage rising from the near shore. “Open Window” (c. 1989) records a scene reminiscent of Matisse: a window view framed by vertical notes of curtain, wall, and the glass panes of the inward-turned sash. Biala’s hues beautifully convey the illumination of the interior and do so with a self-satisfaction quite alien to Matisse, whose unease disclosed itself in more compulsive contrasts and more swiftly cutting lines. All of Biala’s paintings seem touched by a tough ingenuousness — never sentimental or naïve, but slightly nostalgic in their playful intimacy. Suffusing them is the outlook of a painter who has found what she needs and knows what she wants to do. The results glow with a wondrous candor.

This review accompanied the exhibition Biala: I belong where my easel is… at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, NY, November 15, 2007-January 5, 2008.