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 Ilya Bolotowsky  (1907 - 1981)

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Lived/Active: New York/Wyoming / Russian Federation      Known for: bio to geometric abstract painting, murals

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is excerpted from The New York Times, August 6, 2001 by Daniel Watkin:

"Shedding 7 Coats, a Beauty Emerges on a Hospital Wall"
By DANIEL J. WAKIN

For nearly six months, the men of Ward B-11 watched restorers chip and dissolve their way through seven coats of institutional paint.  They breathed the mingled odors of solvent and hospital food. They wondered at the stream of important-looking visitors to their day room.

And they witnessed the resurrection of a 1941 landmark of abstract art in America.

It is a mural by the Russian-born artist Ilya Bolotowsky in the circular day room at Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island.  The 350-square- foot assembly of lines, right-angled shapes and pastel colors has undergone a complete restoration, which was completed on Monday.

The mural lay hidden and forgotten for decades, a victim of the passive neglect of bureaucrats, until it was featured in 1991 by the Municipal Arts Society's Adopt-a- Mural program and funding was pieced together for the restoration.

"It's an absolutely wonderful thing," said Andrew Bolotowsky, the artist's son. "My father was very serious about this particular work, as he was about all his works.  It was very dear to his heart."

In his lifetime, Bolotowsky, one of the nation's first important abstract painters, knew his mural had been painted over.  But he did not speak about it often, his son said.  "The things that were most important to him, he was quiet about," Andrew Bolotowsky said.

In 1981, Bolotowsky began reproducing the mural as an acrylic painting, but he died before finishing the canvas.  The mural faded from memory.  Now it is back, and the tale of its excavation carries a fair number of twists and turns.  So did the life of Bolotowsky.

Bolotowsky (boh-loh-TUFF-skee) was born in 1907 in St. Petersburg, the son of a lawyer and an artist.  The family fled the Russian Revolution for Constantinople, and immigrated to the United States in 1923. Bolotowsky attended the National Academy of Design in New York, served in the Army as a technical translator in Alaska, made movies, and wrote plays and short stories.

He had a Balkan-style mustache and a photographic memory. He played Bach slowly and romantically on the harpsichord.  For exercise as a young man, Bolotowsky would walk from Manhattan to Tarrytown, N.Y., and back.  As a father, he would take his son on walks lasting hours to lectures on "anything and everything," Andrew Bolotowsky said.

Bolotowsky was a founder, in 1936, of American Abstract Artists, a group that included Piet Mondrian, Ad Reinhardt and George L. K. Morris. They created purely abstract art in a style that came to be known as Neo-Plasticism.

Like many abstract painters of his time, Bolotowsky is not very well known, said Debra Balken, a historian of American modernist art and independent curator. But scholars and art lovers are beginning to rediscover the period.

"His contribution was keeping alive abstract painting during the decade of the 30's," she said. "It was the decade of the Depression. It was not fashionable to be an abstract painter."

As Bolotowsky was beginning American Abstract Artists, the Federal Works Progress Administration commissioned him to create a mural, one of the first abstract murals in the country, for the Williamsburg Housing Project in Brooklyn.

The W.P.A. also hired him to paint a mural at the hospital, at the time called the Hospital for Chronic Diseases, on what was then called Welfare Island.  Bolotowsky was a second choice. (Wiser heads prevailed when the first choice, Byron Browne, proposed a photomontage of vigorous young athletes, perhaps not ideal for a hospital that was built in 1939 for tuberculosis patients.)

"The most suited design for a hospital mural should contain no definite subject matter but should be generally soothing in its line and color," Bolotowsky wrote in his proposal.

In the post-World War II years, institutions lost a taste for government-funded art, particularly abstract works, and many of the hundreds of W.P.A. murals in New York fell on hard times. Bolotowsky's mural was painted over.

Samuel Lehrfeld, the executive director of Goldwater, part of the Coler- Goldwater Specialty Care Hospital and Nursing Facility, has served in some capacity at the hospital since 1972.  He said he learned about the mural's existence somewhere on the grounds in the early 1980's. "If we had seen that mural, and if anybody had painted it, there would have been somebody dead here," he proclaimed.

Bolotowsky embarked on his project to recreate the work, plus two others feared lost, in 1979.

A lucky stroke helped.  Years earlier, Jackson Pollock came across a scaled- down preliminary version of the mural in a pile of W.P.A. materials, Andrew Bolotowsky said.  Pollock retrieved it; his wife, the artist Lee Krasner, later donated it to the Guggenheim Museum.  Bolotowsky photographed the scale version to use for his acrylic reproduction.

On a gray November day in 1981, as he was on his way to let in a visitor, Bolotowsky stepped through the manually operated doors of the freight elevator at his Lower Manhattan loft.  He was unaware that the elevator was at the ground floor; he plunged down the shaft and died. Andrew Bolotowsky still has the charcoal sketch his father was working on at the time for the central panel of the mural reproduction.

Biography from Anita Shapolsky Gallery:
Ilya Bolotowsky had a legendary career that involved painting, sculpture, mural production, as well as teaching and also filmmaking.  He was an idealist who constantly embraced new trends in search for order and balance in response to his tumultous upbringing in Russia.  Bolotowsky was a socially progressive thinker who devoted his life to enriching the abstract tradition.  He found that the geometric discipline of the cerebreal Neoplasticism exemplified by Piet Mondrian was a way to express his desire for a dynamic equilibrium.  His geometric abstractions of the 1950s achieved a sophisticated balance of linear spatial divisions and striking color tonalities.  In a review of his 1974 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, which traveled to Washington D.C.'s National Gallery, his work was singled out at scarcely human, commanding a design sense of such power and flexibility.

SELECTED ONE-PERSON EXHIBITIONS
1930 G.R.D. Studios, New York
1946 New Art Circle, J.B. Neumann, New York
1949 Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York
1950 Rose Fried Gallery, New York
1952 New Art Circle, J.B. Neuman, New York
1954 Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York (also 1956,1958,1959,1961,1963,1966,1968,1970,1974,1976,1978,1980)
1960 State University College of Education, New Paltz, New York
1965 Parish Art Museum, South Hampton, New York
1970 IIya Bolotowsky Paintings and Columns, traveling to Newport Harbor Art Museum, Balboa, California, University of Colorado, Boulder, University Art Museum of New Mexico, Albuquerque, The University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City
1973 Recent Serigraphs, Wichita Art Museum, Kansas
1974 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, IIya Bolotowsky, travelled to the National Collection, Washington, D.C.
1980 IIya Bolotowsky, WPA Murals: Paintings From 1935 to 1945, Washburn Gallery, New York
1981 Salt Lake Art Center, Utah
1982 Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona
1983 Bolotowsky And His Circle, New York University Grey Art Gallery
1984 Five Decades, Washburn Gallery, New York IL Punto Blu Gallery, Southampton, New York River Gallery, Irvington-On-Hudson, New York Pembroke Gallery, Houston, Texas

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
1994 The Edge, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York
1995 Artists of The Fifties, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York
1997 Artists of The Fifties, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York
Special Collection, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York
Collector's Choice, Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, Fl
1998 Artists of the 1950's Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York
1999 The Abstract Expressionist Tradition, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York
2000-01 Credo of the Fifties, Anita Shapolsky Gallery, New York

MURALS
1936 Williamsburg Housing Project, New York
1939 Hall of Medical Science, World's Fair, New York
1946 Phillips Steel Co., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1963 Cinema 1, New York
1968 Southampton College, New York
1973 North Central Bronx Hospital, New York
1978 Social Securities Service Building, Chicago, Illinois
1979 Port Authority Ship Terminal, New York
1981 Houston Intercontinental Airport, Terminal C, Houston, Texas
(Reconstruction of World's Fair Mural)

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, Ct
Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Al
Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, PA
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Robert Hull Fleming Museum, Burlington, VT
Gotheborg Museum, Gotheborg, Sweden
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN
University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA
Jerusalem Museum, Jerusalem, Israel
Lyman Alyn Museum, New London, CT
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Michener Art Museum, University of Texas, Austin, TX
University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN
Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, Utica, NY
Musee d'Art Moderne, Ceret, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Calcutta, India
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York,NY
National Collection of Fine Arts Washington, D.C.
Newark Museum Association, Newark, NJ
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton NJ
University of New Mexico, Albuqueque,NM
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Oklahoma Art Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, R.I.
Edward Root Collection, Utica, New York
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
Salt Lake City Art Center, Salt LAke City
San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, NB
Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich, CT
Societe Anonyme Yale University, New Haven, CT
J.B. Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Il
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH
Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven,

Catalogued Exhibitions
Art For Art's Sake - Credo of the 50's
Tuesday, November 7, 2000 - Saturday, January 13, 2001
Anita Shapolsky Gallery, 152 East 65th Street, New York, New York 10021, United States

68 Years / 68 Masters
Thursday, November 16, 2000 - Saturday, December 9, 2000
ACA Galleries, 529 West 20th Street, New York, New York 10011, United States

The Abstract Expressionist Tradition
Opened Thursday, June 10, 1999
Anita Shapolsky Gallery, 152 East 65th Street, New York, New York 10021, United States

Defining the Edge: Early American Abstraction
Selections from the Collection of Dr. Peter B. Fischer
Thursday, March 26, 1998 - Saturday, May 30, 1998
Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 24 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, United States

Artists of the 1950's
Saturday, April 19, 1997 - Wednesday, September 17, 1997
Anita Shapolsky Gallery, 152 East 65th Street, New York, New York 10021, United States

Modern American Artists in Paris in the 1920's & 1930's
On view at Galerie Gerald Piltzer, Paris, October 3 - November 23, 1996.
Thursday, March 20, 1997 - Saturday, May 17, 1997
Gary Snyder Fine Art, 20 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, United States

A Tribute to Grace Borgenicht Gallery, The 1950's: The First Decade
Tuesday, February 4, 1997 - Saturday, March 1, 1997
DC Moore Gallery, 724 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10019, United States

Special Collection
Friday, November 14, 1997 - Saturday, January 10, 1998
Anita Shapolsky Gallery, 152 East 65th Street, New York, New York 10021, United States

Affinities: Contemporary and Historical Art
Thursday, July 11, 1996 - Saturday, September 14, 1996
Gary Snyder Fine Art, 20 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, United States




Biography from Boca Raton Museum of Art:
ILYA BOLOTOWSKY was founding member of the American Abstract Artists*. A Russian immigrant to New York in 1923, Bolotowsky studied at the National Academy of Design* between 1924 and 1930.  He then worked for several years as a textile designer and taught art in settlement houses. By 1932 he had saved enough money so that, combined with a small scholarship, he was able to spend ten months in Europe, primarily Italy, Germany, Denmark, and England, with a few weeks in Paris.

In 1934 he worked for the Public Works of Art Project, a pilot program of federal support that paved the way for the WPA*-FAP in 1935.  When Gertrude Greene mentioned that Burgoyne Diller was heading up a WPA mural project that would use abstract artists, Bolotowsky submitted sketches. Diller arranged Bolotowsky's transfer from the WPA teaching project, and Bolotowsky set to work on a mural design for the Williamsburg housing project, whose architect, William Lescaze, was sympathetic to abstraction.

In his abstract compositions of the mid 1930s, Bolotowsky gave free rein to a variety of stylistic approaches. He encountered the work of both Miró and Mondrian in 1933, and by 1936 introduced a Mondrianesque grid pattern as the framework for playful bio-morphic forms and rectangular planes of un-modulated color.

During World War II, Bolotowsky served in the Army Air Corps. After his discharge, he replaced Joseph Albers for two years at Black Mountain College* in North Carolina. From 1948 to 1957 he taught at the University of Wyoming and at Brooklyn College; from 1957 to 1965 he was Professor of Art at State Teacher's College in New Paltz, New York, and from 1965 until 1971 he taught at the University of Wisconsin in Whitewater.  At various times he also held short-term or adjunct positions at Hunter College in New York, the University of New Mexico, and Queens College.

Before the war, Bolotowsky had exhibited in a variety of group exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art's New Horizons in American Art in 1936 and in both the second and third annual shows of The Ten (1936 and 1937). In 1946, after his return, his paintings began to receive wide attention. He had solo exhibitions at J.B. Neumann's New Art Circle and at The Pinacotheca gallery, and in 1954, he joined Grace Borgenicht's gallery, where he showed biennially into the 1970s.

By The Boca Raton Museum of Art
Catalina Torres (Intern)

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx


Biography from Butler Institute of American Art:
Ilya Bolotowsky had a legendary career that involved painting, sculpture, mural production, as well as teaching and also filmmaking. He was an idealist who constantly embraced new trends in search for order and balance in response to his tumultous upbringing in Russia.

Bolotowsky was a socially progressive thinker who devoted his life to enriching the abstract tradition. He found that the geometric discipline of the cerebreal Neoplasticism exemplified by Piet Mondrian was a way to express his desire for a dynamic equilibrium. His geometric abstractions of the 1950s achieved a sophisticated balance of linear spatial divisions and striking color tonalities.

In a review of his 1974 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, which traveled to Washington D.C.'s National Gallery, he had his work singled out as scarcely human, commanding a design sense of tremendous power and flexibility.

Selected One -Person Exhibitions
1930 G.R.D. Studios, New York
1946 New Art Circle, J.B. Neumann, New York
1949 Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York
1950 Rose Fried Gallery, New York
1952 New Art Circle, J.B. Neuman, New York
1954 Grace Borgenicht Gallery, New York (also 1956,1958,1959,1961,1963,1966,1968,1970,1974,1976,1978,1980)
1960 State University College of Education, New Paltz, New York
1965 Parish Art Museum, South Hampton, New York
1970 IIya Bolotowsky Paintings and Columns, traveling to Newport Harbor Art Museum, Balboa, California, University of Colorado, Boulder, University Art Museum of New Mexico, Albuquerque, The University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City
1973 Recent Serigraphs, Wichita Art Museum, Kansas
1974 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, IIya Bolotowsky, travelled to the National Collection, Washington, D.C.
1980 IIya Bolotowsky, WPA Murals: Paintings From 1935 to 1945, Washburn Gallery, New York
1981 Salt Lake Art Center, Utah
1982 Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona
1983 Bolotowsky And His Circle, New York University Grey Art Gallery
1984 Five Decades, Washburn Gallery, New York IL Punto Blu Gallery, Southampton, New York River Gallery, Irvington-On-Hudson, New York Pembroke Gallery, Houston, Texas

Biography from Utah Museum of Fine Arts:
Born in St. Petersburg, Ilya Bolotowsky became a leading early 20th-century painter in abstract styles in New York City.  His work, a search for philosophical order through visual expression, embraced Cubism and Geometric Abstraction and was much influenced by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

Bolotowsky immigrated to America in 1923 and, settling in New York City, attended the National Academy of Design.  He became associated with a group called The Ten, artists including Julian Weir and Childe Hassam who rebelled against the strictures of the Academy and held independent exhibitions.

In 1936, having turned to Geometric Abstractions, he was one of the founding members of the American Abstract Artists, a cooperative formed to promote the interests of abstract painters and to increase understanding between themselves and the public.

During this period, Bolotowsky came under the influence of the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and the tenets of Neoplasticism, a movement that advocated the possibility of ideal order in the visual arts. Bolotowsky adopted his mentor's use of horizontal and vertical geometric pattern and a palette restricted to primary colors and neutrals.

His mural for the Williamsburg Housing Project, New York, was one of the first abstract murals done under the Federal Art Project.  Despite Bolotowsky's clear, precise control of his images, he emphasized the role of intuition over formula in determining his compositions.

In the 1960s, he began making three-dimensional forms, usually vertical and straight sided.

Source:
Website of Utah Museum of Fine Arts


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