LOEW & STANKIEWICZ

MICHAEL LOEW

RICHARD STANKIEWICZ

“The impact of Hofmann’s teaching, especially on American art of the post-war period, has been invaluable. His ideas of color and composition have inspired two generations of American painters and sculptures who studied with him in this country and abroad.”

- William C. Seitz

"The concepts of my school are fundamental. But a true artist could violate them all."


- Hans Hofmann

The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Art, in which the eponymous artist was the only teacher, was a rookery for the application of Hofmann's "push/pull" technique, which stressed the importance of creating surface tension through the expansion and contraction of opposing elements, most commonly in colour, contour, line, space or scale.

 

The school was first opened in 1933 as an enriching environment for young artists to hone their technical skills through meticulous repetition in the studio and to engage with the history of a particular media; only then, Hofmann taught, could one accumulate enough knowledge and technical know-how to create something truly original.

By the 1940s, Hofmann and his school had emerged as the philosophical counterpoint to Josef Albers and the Black Mountain College, which endorsed multiple disciplines. Hofmann, by contrast, wanted his students to become masters of their craft, promoted through the fastidious application of theory through practice, a methodology that attracted some of the most progressive artists of the day, including Michael Loew and Richard Stankiewicz.

By the time Loew and Stankiewicz joined the school in 1947, Loew had already established himself as an artist of distinguished form as Stankiewicz was beginning to discover his facility and aptitude for sculpture. At the School of Fine Art, both artists embraced Hofmann’s teaching methods and distilled his geometric and colour theories into their distinguished styles that helped them to define a new order of post-war American art: the second generation of the New York School.

"For me, the use of the rectangle or the square...heightens the intensity of the painting experience. In part because of the very hazards involved: the form, while seemingly a curb or a dam, may liberate the unforeseen."

- Michael Loew

Michael Loew was born in New York City in 1907, the son of a baker. After high school, he was apprenticed to a stained-glass maker, which initiated his sensitivity towards colour. From 1926-1929, he studied at the Art Student’s League (Hofmann would teach there a few years later), an experience that resulted in compelling, highly sympathetic depictions of quotidian urban life. 

 

In 1929,  swept up in the entourage of an eccentric art patron named Sadie A. May, he travelled to Paris, North Africa, Germany, and Italy with a group of artists, including Max Schnitzler and Alfred Jensen. He returned to New York City at the height of the Great Depression in 1931, and for the next two years, supported himself by bartering his paintings for rent.

In 1935, he found regular employment painting murals for the Works Progress Administration and received commissions from the Treasury and other branches of government. Whereas these works were more traditionally figurative in the rhetorical symbolic mode of the time, his 1939 mural for the Hall of Pharmacy at the New York World's Fair, a commission that he shared with his life-long friend Willem de Kooning, represented a clear decision to mine a more abstract vein and became the catalyst in bringing modern art to a wider public; a paradigm of the integration of modern art into life.

Loew & de Kooning's Hall of Pharmacy mural at the 1939 World's Fair, New York

[Loew and de Kooning's] startlingly modern, semi-abstract exterior murals were singled out then and since for their high quality and their role in introducing the public to modern art styles. 

- April Kingsley

Following Pearl Harbor, Loew joined the Navy and served as the battalion artist for the “Seabees” as they toured the South Pacific, rendering the construction of the airbase on Tinian Island in dozens of watercolour paintings. 

He came home at the end of the war, having lost much of his hearing, his hair and all of his interest in working representationally. Before he formally studied Post-Cubism under Hofmann, Loew investigated and experimented with semi-abstraction on his own, integrating organic figures into a rectilinear grid; his fluidity of line was characteristic of Matisse, and the dissolution of form and space acknowledged Picasso's influence. 

Seated Female Nude

Charcoal on paper

62 x 48 cm.

1946

REF 3242

Loew's works in charcoal from the mid-40s laid the foundation for the gestural abstractions that came later, as well as the grid that became the armature for his imagery, both formal aspects of his technique that were honed, methodically repeated and studied under Hofmann's curatorship.

Loew's confident angular lines and clarity of execution exemplify a facility for draftsmanship, yet his process of reduction from figure or landscape to geometric order manifested in his time with Hofmann. His lyrical floating cells lack the hard edge and strict theoretical underpinnings of DeStijl, but rather are imbued with a wistful sense of nostalgia, often inspired by the seascape and light of Maine's Monhegan Island where he spent the summers with his wife as of 1949 and which would feature prominently in his art for the next thirty years. 

Monhegan July #76

Acrylic and watercolour on canvas

168 x 152 cm.

1984

REF 170

Loew left Hofmann's School of Fine Art in 1949, the same year his first solo show was held at the Artists Gallery in New York. The exhibition showcased abstract works in oil and watercolours of Monhegan Island. The abstract works were well received by the American Abstract Artists group for their ingenuity, while critics preferred the more figurative oils, bathed in the piercing Maine light.

However, what they didn't realize then and what few realize now is that Loew's paintings are always based on real subjects; reduced to their linear essence, they are a literal abstraction from reality. Throughout his career, Loew's reference point was often the landscape of coastal Maine, where he rendered the variegated light, rich tones, and tranquil seascape through formal expression by transposing them into a series of floating, prismatic colour grids.

Under Hofmann, Loew cultivated his sensibility for colour effects; he used Mondrian's grid-structure as a base from which to experiment with the possibilities of the palette and to focus on subtle transitions of tone or harmony of colour relationships. Drawing inspiration from life, he transformed his subjects into what Susan Larsen described as a "fusion of landscape and radical abstraction."

May #71

Acrylic and watercolour on canvas

81 x 61 cm.

1981

REF 169

Loew continued to develop his artistic range throughout his career. However, the basic principles remained the same, which allowed him to return to his early explorations of intense modulated colour and geometric form towards the end of his career. His works capture the precise conception of an evolutionary process that ultimately led to the creation of highly synthesized, seminal neo-plastic “Open Space” paintings of the 1970s and early 1980s.

"The secret weapon in Michael Loew's arsenal was the way he used white," wrote April Kingsley on the occasion of Landau Fine Art's retrospective of the artist's work in 1990. "A sense of depth is created since a place behind the picture plane is suggested by the veiled colour; a sense of time is generated by there having been something which existed previously in a way that it no longer does." 

Hofmann's influence is felt throughout Loew's oeuvre. The grid lines may fade in and out as washes of colour bleed out, and at times cover and obscure the bars that otherwise unveil the dominant pattern, yet there is a strong sense that, in Loew's confident line and his ability to reduce reality to its essence, the artist has found an unequivocal voice and a firm position in the history of art.

Hofmann in 1949 (Photo property of the artist's Estate)

"The difference between the arts arises because of the difference in the mediums of expression, and in the emphasis induced by the nature of each medium [which] has its own order of being."

- Hans Hofmann

Fifteen years Loew's junior, Richard Stankiewicz was born in Philadelphia in 1922. In 1928, four years after his father died, his mother moved the family to Detroit, settling in an apartment alongside a foundry dump. Without the means to buy toys, Stankiewicz constructed his own playthings from the detritus he came upon in the junkyard, assembling disparate parts or creatively manipulating random pieces for the desired effect. This experience became the foundation of his artistic practice in later years.

He attended Cass Technical High School, studying mechanical drafting, volumetric geometry, engineering, art, and music and earned a scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. However, unable to afford college, he abandoned school and enlisted in the Navy in 1941.

''I take material that is already degenerating, flaking and rusting, and then try to make something beautiful of it. It should hit people over the head and make them ask, 'What is beauty?' ''

- Richard Stankiewcz

Before he toured the Pacific, around the same time as Loew, his work was primarily in painting. However, in the Aleutians, he carved images out of caribou bone and in Hawaii, he made his first abstract sculptures in wood that were instilled with a totemic quality that remained a salient feature of his work throughout his career.

In 1947, Stankiewicz was discharged from the Navy and promptly moved to New York to study art for the first time under Hofmann. It was at Hofmann's School of Fine Art that his technical skills in engineering and mechanical drafting were transformed into an individualized aesthetic, and where he developed a greater understanding of the masters who would inspire him, including abstract expressionist sculptor David Smith, Jean Dubuffet, Franz Kline, Giacometti and Mondrian.

The Atelier Léger circa 1950 (Photo property of Rosy Rey)

In 1950, both Loew and Stankiewicz left New York to continue their studies under Fernand Léger at his Atelier in Paris. Stankiewicz continued on to study sculpture under Ossip Zadkine. 

When Stankiewicz returned to the United States in 1951, he began to produce the work that would become his trademark; recalling his childhood experience and realizing the sculptural potential and expressiveness of weathered and discarded objects, he began welding them together with techniques established by David Smith but honed under Hofmann and Zadkine. 

 

The following year, he helped establish the artist's cooperative Hansa Gallery with Allan Kaprow, which ran until 1959. Hansa was named after Hofmann, from whose art school the initial pool of artists was drawn, including Jan Müller, Jean Follet, and Wolf Kahn, and through whose exhibitions Stankiewicz would gain his reputation as one of the pioneers of ''junk art'' and assemblage.

In 1953, Stankiewicz exhibited some of his first welded steel sculptures at Hansa. The works were hailed by Fairfield Porter as evidence that “Life is stronger than the machine."

Promotion for the final exhibition at the Hansa Gallery in 1959

Throughout the 1950s, Stankiewicz supported himself as a freelance draftsman while experimenting with various materials for sculpture. His works from this period included assemblages of brake drums, stove fittings, rusty wires and ball bearings that were infused with intense animal energy and authority of expression. 

 

Stankiewicz's use of found objects was also, in part, a reaction to the urban environment of New York where surfeit junk littered the streets. The artist discovered myriad innovative ways to recycle discarded material, pipes, nuts, bolts, screws, clockwork, into carefully ordered sculptural compositions that both respected the fragmentary, arbitrary character of the materials and transformed them into elegant and whimsical works of art.  

 

A stalwart apologist for the intrinsic value and life of all objects and materials, Stankiewicz possessed a unique talent to bring regular geometric steel shapes into a state of quivering syncopation. 

Seated Figure

Wire with wooden base

54.6 x 40 cm.

1952

REF 805

Although associated with other found-object artists of the 1950s, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Nevelson, Stankiewicz developed a particular artistic process that combined powerful formal integrity with a keen sense of wit and fantasy. Evoking African tribal sculpture as well as the fragments of urban, industrial civilization, he bridged the figurative and the abstract to create a unique body of three-dimensional work.

As Fairfield Porter wrote of Stankiewicz, whose work was included in the 1961 exhibition, Art of Assemblage at the MoMA: "His sculpture, using junk, is a creation of life out of death, the new life being quite different in nature than the old one that was decaying in the junk pile, on the sidewalk, in the used-car lot. In its decay, there is already a new beginning before Stankiewicz gets hold of it. At his best, he makes one aware of the vitality that is extra-artistic. His respect for the material is not a machinist’s respect, but the respect of someone who can take a machine or leave it, who respects even the life of things, which is more than mechanical."

For the rest of the decade, Stankiewicz’s work was increasingly praised for its ingenuity, and he participated in numerous group and solo shows, including Young America (1957) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Irons in the Fire at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston (1957), the Venice Biennale, where he was one of three Americans included in the exhibition of Young Italian and Foreign Artists (1958), and a one-man exhibition at the Stable Gallery in 1959.

Untitled (left), included in the Art of Assemblage exhibition at MoMA 1961

"Respect for the material is common enough in art; it is part of the organic theory. But [Stankiewicz's] material has already been used once and it retains the quality of some previous construction, which was mechanical and functional…"

 - Fairfield Porter

In 1963, a year after Stankiewicz left New York to establish his studio and teach in Massachusetts while Loew held teaching positions at the University of California, Berkley, followed by the School of Visual Arts in NYC, William Seitz, Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, presented an exhibition entitled, Hofmann and His Students.

 

The show featured six major works by the now-famous 83-year-old teacher and one work each by fifty of Hofmann’s ex-students, including Loew and Stankiewicz, one of the few (if only) times the two artists were shown together. The exhibition was a testament to Hofmann's ability to inspire creativity and the imprint of his aesthetics on a generation of artists and would-be teachers.

 

As Irving Sandler noted, "If a teacher’s stature is measured by the number of his students who achieve national and international renown in their own right, then that of Hofmann is without equal." Leow and Stankiewicz are among these artists. 

Flight

Oil on canvas

95.6 x 86.4 cm.

1958

REF 5569

In the 1950s, Loew reached the full development of his mature style. While the influence of artists like Mondrian and teachers like Hofmann can be appreciated in his work, his adaptation of modern ideas on formal structure and colour yielded something completely fresh and original and included him among the upper echelons of the New York School of Abstract Expressionists. 

Loew's debt to Hofmann is unmistakable. A recognized pillar of American Modernism, by 1985, Loew had been a celebrated artist, professor and instructor for over 30 years. His works are included the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Untitled

Wire and plaster

48.3 x 19.1 x 17.8 cm. 

c. 1952

REF 806

During the 1950s, when his work held some of the brashness and irreverence identified with the New York School, Stankiewicz used incongruity and the judicious placement of found objects to call attention to some aspect or character trait of the human figure. His work played an important role in the redefinition of art at the height of Hofmann's teaching, and his sense of whimsy and controlled spontaneity prefigured what would follow in the second half of the century.

 

His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Yet, as is the case with several artists who figured significantly in the heady decade when the New York School came to international prominence, the full range of Stankiewicz's art has not been fully appreciated. 

Robert and Alice Landau with Hofmann's Purple Patch, 1954

"Hofmann's absolute faith in art as the revelation of spiritual and universal reality caused him to teach with powerful conviction, deeply impressing many of his students."

- Irving Sander, 1973

In 1945, noted critic Clement Greenberg wrote, "Hans Hofmann is in all probability the most most important teacher of our time...[his] insights into modern art...have gone deeper than those of any other contemporary."

 

As much as Hofmann's theories shaped a generation of artists, including Stankiewicz and Loew, it was his elasticity, his ability to criticize the work of his students in its own terms and foster the personal traits of his students' work that gave rise to a proliferation of styles and artists who believed anything was possible. Of Hofmann, Stankiewicz wrote: "I suppose the most remarkable thing to me about his instruction was his phenomenal capacity for sympathy and empathy with his students which enabled him to address each individual."

Life-long friends Michael Loew and William de Kooning

Select Loew Group & Solo Exhibitions

2009 Works on Paper from the 1940s and 1950s, Meredith Ward Fine Art Gallery, NYC

2005 Towards Geometric Abstraction, Acme Fine Art Gallery, Boston, MA

1997 Farnsworth Museum, Rockland Maine

1997 Monhegan Island Museum, Monhegan, Maine

1990 "Michael Loew: Serene Genius in Retrospect", Landau Fine Art

1989 "Abstraction, Geometry, Painting: Selected Geometric Abstract Painting in America 1989 Since 1945," Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY

1989 "Straphangers," Whitney Museum at Phillip Morris, NYC

1988 "American Art of the Nineteen Thirties," Bronx Museum of Arts Satellite Gallery, Bronx, NY

1987  Recent Acquisitions, Guggenheim Museum, NYC

1987 "Paintings from the Eighties", Marilyn Pearl Gallery, NYC

1986 Marilyn Pearl Gallery, Memorial Exhibition, NYC

1985 "The Severe & the Romantic: Geometric Humanism in American Painting, the 1950s & the 1980s," Marilyn Pearl Gallery, NYC

1980 "The Dawn of a New Day: New York World’s Fair 1939-40," Queens Museum, Flushing

1980 "Abstractions," Maine Coast Artists Gallery, Rockport, ME

1980 "Crossovers," Suzanna Lemberg Usdan Gallery, Bennington Coll., Bennington, VT

1977 Marilyn Pearl Gallery, NYC

1976 Landmark Gallery, NYC1973 Landmark Gallery, NYC

1966 University of California, Berkley

1965 Stable Gallery, NYC

1960 University of California, Berkley

1959 Two Man Show, Loew & McNeil, Rutgers University

1959 Rose Fried Gallery, NYC

1959 T.K. Gallery, Provincetown, MA

1957 Rose Fried Gallery, NYC

1956 Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME

1955 Rose Fried Gallery, NYC

1949 Artists Gallery, NYC

Select Public Collections

Whitney Museum of American Art

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Gallatin Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Carnegie Institute Museum of Art

Albright Knox Art Gallery

University of California, Berkeley

Portland Museum of Art

Dallas Museum of Fine Arts

Detroit Museum of Art

Wichita State University

Farnsworth Museum

Hampton University

Israel Museum

Monhegan Island Museum

Awards and Fellowships

Judith Rothschild Grant, 1997
Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 1979

National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant, 1976

Ford Foundation Purchase, 1964

Commissioned by Treasury Department to paint murals for post offices in Amherst, Ohio, and Belle Vernon, PA, 1941, 1942

Honourable Mention (twice in succession), National Mural Competition of U.S. Treasury Department, 1941, 1942

Commission for Hall of Pharmacy, NY World’s Fair with Willem de Kooning, 1939-1940

Sadie A. May Fellowship, 1929

Portrait of Richard Stankiewicz by Arthur Mones, 1980

Select Stankiewicz Group & Solo Exhibitions

2008 McCormick Gallery and Vincent Vallarino Fine Art

2003 "Miracle in the Scrap Heap," Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover

1985 "Philip Johnson Selected Gifts," MoMA, New York

1969 "20th-Century Art from the Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller Collection," MoMA, New York

1961 "The Art of Assemblage," MoMA, New York

1959-60 "Sixteen Americans," MoMA, New York

1959 Stable Gallery, New York

1958 29th Venice Biennale, Venice

1958 Hansa Gallery, New York

1957 "Irons in the Fire," Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston

1957 "Young America," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

1957 Hansa Gallery, New York

1956 Hansa Gallery, New York

1954 Hansa Gallery, New York

1953 Hansa Gallery, New York

Select Public Collections

Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
The Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn

Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC

Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland

The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

We thank you for visiting our online exhibition. Please contact the gallery to find out more about these two exceptional artists. 

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