ACME Fine Art’s first exhibition of 2011 will be a solo exhibition of mid-career oil paintings by noted twentieth century American modernist George McNeil. This is the gallery’s fourth solo exhibition of McNeil’s work, but the first focused on paintings from this period. In fact, this will be the first exhibition anywhere that is exclusively devoted to McNeil’s paintings from this important pivotal period of his career – at least since the paintings were contemporary, nearly fifty years ago. The exhibition will open to the public on Friday 14 January through 5 March 2011. An Opening Reception will be held at the gallery from 2:00 to 5:00 on Saturday 22 January. A Gallery Talk featuring the artist’s daughter, Helen McNeil, speaking about George McNeil’s life and work will be held on Saturday 26 February at 2:00 p.m.
George McNeil has often been referred to by colleagues and modern art cognoscenti as a painter’s painter. This is undoubtedly reflects their own admiration of and respect for McNeil and the artwork that he produced, coupled with the general lack of awareness of him by the public at large. While never a celebrity, in his day McNeil was well known by those at the center of the avant-garde art world, and he remains a key figure in the history of twentieth century modern art in America. This is borne out by the following partial list of his accomplishments: He was a co-founder of American Abstract Artists (1936). He was one of only 6 artists invited to participate in the World’s Fair Exhibition (1939) who showed non-objective work. A true first generation Abstract Expressionist, he was one of the original Egan Gallery artists along with De Kooning, Kline, Tworkov and Cavallon. He was among the first to move successfully beyond Abstract Expressionism to become a founder of the Figurative Expressionist movement.
It is this transition from Abstract Expressionism to Figurative Expressionism that is the focus of this ACME Fine Art exhibition. For McNeil, the transition began in the late 1950s when Abstract Expressionism had become mainstream, and most first and even second generation practitioners in the movement were realizing the limitations of the Abstract Expressionist idiom. In Jack Tworkov’s case this led to a move towards a more platonic exploration, but for McNeil and other artists such as Lester Johnson, Jan Muller, and Robert Beauchamp, it meant harnessing the power of the human figure, while remaining true to their expressive voices.
The paintings selected for inclusion in this exhibition follow McNeil’s path from his late 1950’s era work -where forms and compositions were beginning to coalesce into vaguely figurative formations- to the late 1960s and early 1970s canvases, where key aspects of the human anatomy became powerful meaning-laden tools for this expressionist master. Also included is an important group of landscape-inspired paintings that McNeil referred to as “abstractscapes.” These date from the mid-1960s and were often painted en-plein-aire, while back in his studio the artist’s work was evolving in a more distinctly anthropomorphic direction. Collectively this group of paintings is a powerfully coherent body of work that beautifully demonstrates George McNeil’s at times poignant transition from the non-objective to figural representation; however, they also speak this artist’s desire to speak more directly to his audience, and they ultimately became the portal through which the Figurative Expressionist or later Neo-Expressionist trail emerged.
A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue with essays by Eleanor Heartney and Helen McNeil is available through the gallery.
ACME Fine Art is located at 38 Newbury Street, Boston MA 02116. Gallery Hours are 11:00 to 5:30 Tuesday through Saturday. The entire exhibition will be viewable on-line after 22 January at www.acmefineart.com .