“Viewing the works of Alfonso Ossorio for the first time, one finds it difficult to place him in the history of art. Though typically labeled an Abstract Expressionist, his work might better be described as abstract and expressionist, with liberal doses of Surrealism, Art Brut, and a few other eclectic affinities thrown into the mix. Taken together, Ossorio’s work produces quite a heady effect…one has a chance to see thirty-three of these fertile—and at times febrile—works of this artist who is often overshadowed by his more famous friends but worthy of consideration on his own terms.” — by Brendan Dooley in The New Criterion, October 22, 2013
“…The works on view mark an especially productive period of invention for the artist — during this time, he made leaps and bounds into abstraction. But what’s so impressive about Ossorio is his refusal to stop once he arrived on fruitful ground. He seemed to reject any one style, movement, or influence. To tie Ossorio solely to his better-known Ab-Ex peers would be to try to fit him in a box that he quickly outgrew. The power of these works lies in how they synthesize a number of influences into one continuous stream of creative thought…” — by Howard Hurst in Hyperallergic.com, October 15, 2013
NEW YORK | The painter Alfonso Ossorio was a bridge between Ab-Ex and Art Brut — but also a radiant, frenetic original who deserves to be considered on his own terms. Because he was not as famous as Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet, the central figures of those movements, and because he was a Filipino-American, which is to say he was a spontaneous cipher of fruitful styles that converge, Ossorio’s work had always been placed at the art-historical hallway of insider and outsider.
He was an insider because he personally knew Pollock, Dubuffet and Lee Krasner. Today the art world categorizes him as a member of their mutual admiration society. Indeed, Ossorio absorbed Pollock’s signature method of drip painting in oil and enamel, as the intricate skeins of his 1951 canvases indicate.
A postwar American painter, Ossorio met Pollock in 1949 through the art dealer Betty Parsons. In 1950, at Pollock’s suggestion, Ossorio traveled to Paris to meet Dubuffet, an artist with whom he developed a deep kinship and engaged in a rich correspondence. From 1952 to 1962, Ossorio housed and exhibited at his East Hampton estate Dubuffet’s art brut collection. Ossorio supported Pollock critically and financially, buying important works like “Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)” and hanging them at his 80-acre East Hampton estate.
Ossorio was also an outsider. He lived a vastly different experience, and was a product of an utterly different sense of privilege and education. He was gay, Roman Catholic, Harvard-educated, a dancer, a patron of the arts, founder of the Manhattan School of Ballet, and the Filipino-American heir to a sugar fortune.
More important: Ossorio was neither insider or outsider. Unlike Pollock, Ossorio never had a problem reconciling abstraction and representation. He exerted his own influence on Pollock. As Dubuffet observed: “In Ossorio’s eyes, the embodiment of things seems fortuitous, as inessential as the fact, for example, that a gas may assume a liquid state. Each body seems to him as a spirit occasionally passing into a field where human eyes can perceive it.”
Through October 26, 2013, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery re-presents Alfonso Ossorio: Masterworks from the Collection of the Robert U. Ossorio Foundation. This exhibition presents 16 fascinating works from the 1950s and 1960s by Alfonso Ossorio.
Robert U. Ossorio (1923-1996) was the sixth of eight Ossorio brothers. He assembled one of the most impressive private collections of Alfonso Ossorio’s art. The Rosenfeld exhibitions is a unique chance to view three monumental Ossorio abstractions from the 1950s: Beachcomber (1953), The Improbable Cross (1955), and Act of Faith/Auto da Fé (1956).
Also on view are five Ossorio congregations, including Searcher (1963).
In the catalogue foreword, Fogg Art Museum Curator of Modern Art, Harry Cooper explains the significance of this exhibition:
This exhibition marks a new chapter in Ossorio’s fortunes, for it benefits the Harvard University Art Museums’ Ossorio Fund, whose purpose is to study and display the work of Ossorio and his American contemporaries. Ossorio’s years at Harvard left an indelible mark on him, partly because the study of art history there involved the practice of historical artistic techniques. While at Harvard, Ossorio also published a book of his poems and engravings, and the Fogg exhibited his nascent art collection. Today, thanks largely to the generosity of two of Ossorio’s brothers, Frederic and Robert, and of Frederic’s widow Siena, Harvard possesses a core group of Ossorio’s works and an endowment to support related scholarship and exhibitions.
Proceeds from the sale of their works will be donated to the Ossorio Fund at the Harvard University Art Museums.
Alfonso Ossorio was a central figure of postwar American art, but he has been virtually absent from standard art history texts. His altruism and generosity have obscured his own accomplishments as an artist.
Some people have claimed that Ossorio was just imitating Pollock. This exhibition shows that Ossorio used a unique “wax-resist” painting technique that really no one else had used. He, too, broke the traditions of easel painting and used unorthodox materials and experimented.
It’s a secret history of postwar American art, if you will. In many important respects, Ossorio surpasses both the techniques of Ab-Ex and Art Brut to forge his own wild assemblages that he called “congregations.”
It’s time to re-draft the history of postwar American art.
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