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 Norman Bluhm  (1921 - 1999)

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Lived/Active: New York/Vermont/Illinois / France      Known for: abstract expressionist painting- fantasy

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Ad Code: 1
Norman Bluhm
from Auction House Records.
Chicago 1920
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An Abstract Expressionist, Norman Bluhm was born in Chicago in 1921, although as a child he lived in Italy for eight years.  His principle education was architecture, and he studied at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Mies van der Rohe.  He also studied briefly in Florence before moving to Paris in 1947 to continue studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he was exposed to the ideas of the Bauhaus philosophy of bringing together aesthetically arts and crafts.

Prior to and after his studies, Bluhm was a member of the Air Force and served in World War II. After World War II, he lived in Paris with other hopeful American writers and artists of the expatriate scene.  There he developed an interest in nude painting.

In 1956 he moved to New York. The Cedar Tavern was a favorite gathering place where he convened with other painters and writers, such as Frank O'Hara, Franz Kline, William de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock.  Among the work of this noted group were the twenty-six Bluhm-O'Hara spontaneous poem paintings, composed in Bluhm's studio atop the old Tiffany Glass Building in 1960.  New York University owns the majority of these poems.

The Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. exhibited Bluhm's work in his first museum show in 1969. During the 1960s and 1970s, his art created an atmosphere of violence, with a large paint-soaked brush, often using blues, pinks, purples and greens.  His work which featured webs of jagged marks, cascading drips and violent splatters of paint, increasingly took on the energy and scale of abstract expressionism.  Later his violent outlook changed, as did his style. He has exhibited his works throughout the United States and Europe.

A vigorous man with a viselike handshake, he looked and acted twenty years younger.  Bluhm died suddenly on February 3,1999 of heart failure in East Wallingford, Vermont.   His studio was filled with paintings about to be shipped to the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio      

Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Paul Cummings, Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists
Raphael Rubinstein in an obituary in Art in America
additional information courtesy of Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, A-D):
Norman Bluhm came of age during the rise of the second generation of abstract expressionist painters in America and, while influenced by his predecessors and his peers, he created a unique style that differed from that of those around him. Reacting against the predominant and popular style of the days—representational American Scene and Regionalist paintings of the 1930s and 1940s, and School of Paris abstraction—the first generation of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, and Willem de Kooning sought to divest the work of art of any mimetic function. Art did not have to imitate or represent life; it was life unto itself. Accordingly, many also sought to rid their art of any narrative content: “The new painting dispensed with recognizable images from the known world . . .It was an art that sought to negate the art of America’s recent past as well as that of more distant times and places.”(1) Paintings became arenas in which to act—hence the term “action painters,” as an alternative to Abstract Expressionists. The physical act of painting was of paramount importance and must be apparent in the finished product. Their pictures were also places to display their physical, psychological, and emotional responses to the world around them.

Born in Chicago in 1921, Bluhm took a somewhat circuitous route to becoming an artist. He studied architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) under Mies van der Rohe for three years before he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1941. Most scholars agree that his experience as a B-26 pilot during the war, flying missions over North Africa and Europe, had a profound effect upon his later career as a painter, in which he would incorporate the sense of space and the feeling of speed. After the war ended, Bluhm briefly returned to Chicago and in 1947, decided to devote himself to art. For a short time he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arte in Florence, but then settled in Paris from 1947-1956. There he attended both the Académie de la Grand Chaumière and the Ecole des Beaux Arts and came to know as Alberto Giacometti and other modern painters. In 1956, Bluhm moved to New York City and soon began showing his works at such renowned galleries as Leo Castelli and Martha Jackson in Manhattan and Galerie Stadler in Paris. From the late 1950s until his death in 1999, Bluhm exhibited regularly in group and solo shows throughout America and abroad.

As James Harithas wrote “the 1950s and 1960s gave rise to a powerful new generation of Abstract Expressionists. It consisted of artists such as Norman Bluhm, John Chamberlain, Al Leslie, Joan Mitchell, and Mark Di Suvero who approached the style with a profound commitment to take it to the next level. A sophisticated and sympathetic grasp of their European cultural roots and a greater emphasis on basics—composition, drawing, color, surface quality and structure—distinguish their approach.”(2)

1 David and Cecile Shapiro, “Introduction: A Brief History,” in "Abstract Expressionism: A Critical Record" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1.

2 James Harithas, “Norman Bluhm,” on www.normanbluhm.com.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Abby M Taylor Fine Art:
Born in Chicago’s South Side, Norman Bluhm initially studied the Bauhaus approach to architecture while also spending his spare time learning to fly.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, Bluhm became a B-Pilot and flew 44 missions over North Africa and Europe before getting wounded and sent home.

After the war, he decided to discard his career as an architect and moved to Paris where he attended art classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumiére and Ecole des Beaux Arts.  In 1956 he returned to New York and began a lifelong successful career as an Abstract Expressionist painter.  He was part of a vibrant and glamorous "movement", socializing with a handful of art-world titans and collaborating with the curator and poet Frank O'Hara to create a legendary collection of "Poem Paintings."

An important figure in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, Bluhm enjoyed substantial critical success during his lifetime.  His work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art.  However he found greater solace in painting than in fame or academic theorizing about art.

Gradually he moved farther and farther from New York, eventually settling in a still corner of Rural Vermont.  Bluhm was in thrall with painting itself not fame or public relations. For him the studio was the center of the art universe and whether in Paris, New York, or Vermont he allowed himself to be led by its constant demands.

Norman Bluhm died at his home in East Wallingford, Vermont on February 3, 1999.

Exhibited
Carnegie Institute, 1958
“American Abstract Image”, Guggenheim Museum, 1961
“Two Decades of American Painting”, Museum of Modern Art, 1966
“Large Scale American Painting”, Jewish Museum, 1967
Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, 1970’s
Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1969 (solo)
Whitney Museum of American Art, 1959, 1972

Collections
Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
Arizona State University, AZ
The University of Arizona Art Museum, AZ
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Ball State University Museum of Art, IN
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, MO
New York University Collection, NY
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
Everson Museum of Art, NY
Dallas Museum of Art, TX
Chrysler Museum of Art, VA
The Columbus Museum, GA
Neuberger Museum of Art, NY
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Museum of Modern Art, NY

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.


Norman Bluhm is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Abstract Expressionism



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