Victoria Miro is delighted to present a stand dedicated to the twentieth century master Milton Avery (1885–1965). The gallery’s first presentation of the artist since announcing its representation of Milton Avery’s work in Europe, and Victoria Miro’s first solo presentation at Art Basel in three decades of participation in the fair, features paintings and works on paper from throughout Avery’s career, many of which have never been exhibited outside of the US. The presentation includes a number of works that have been made available in Europe for the first time by The Milton Avery Trust.
One of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, and a pivotal figure linking American Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism, Milton Avery is celebrated for his luminous paintings of landscapes, figures and still lifes, which balance distillation of form with free, vigorous brushwork and lyrical colour. Drawn from across his career, the gallery’s presentation foregrounds Avery’s singularity of vision, in particular his sensitivity to his environment and his achievements as a subtle and inventive colourist, while featuring a number of works that reveal the rich, ongoing dialogue between Avery and a younger generation of artists, such as Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko, for whom he was a decisive influence and a guiding light.
An insight into Avery’s working practice is revealed in rarely-seen pairings of his canvases and their associated works on paper in watercolour, gouache and oil crayon, such as Sail Loft and Orange Sky, 1959, and Boathouse by the Sea, 1959, and in the trio of works Blue Sea, Red Sky, 1958, Red Sky, Blue Sea, 1958 and Sand, Sea and Sky, 1953, an unparalleled record of the artist’s process, culminating in one of the iconic paintings of his later years. From the beginning of his career, Avery’s method of working – from sketches to watercolours to paintings on canvas – involved him drawing upon and reassessing recollections of experiences or places. He challenged himself to “try to capture and translate the excitement and emotion aroused in me by the impact with the original idea,” and it is in succinct juxtapositions of two, or sometimes three, related works that we experience his feeling for and orchestration of the tensions between emotive power, formal dynamics and fidelity to his subject matter, and the methods by which he was able to harness the immediacy of a place and the emotion of a moment.
Rather than think, as ordinarily we might, of study and completed work, Avery appears to ask us to consider his works on paper and in oils on equal terms – to think of each as aspiring to the optimum degrees of luminosity, weight, emotive power that their medium allows and his vision demands. The mixed media on paper Sail Loft and Orange Sky and the oil on canvas Boathouse by the Sea – in which horizontals and diagonals suggesting sea, sky, sand and the deep shadow of a building in the foreground are pushed towards near-abstract zones of lambent colour – illustrate this compulsion as he worked across ever larger supports. Composed of triads depicting beach, sea and sky, Blue Sea, Red Sky and the related, fully-developed painting on paper, Red Sky, Blue Sea, both painted in 1958 and derived from a small, much earlier (1953) oil crayon drawing, Sand, Sea & Sky, show Avery’s vision fully realised at each phase and in each medium.
These and other works on display were completed during a period in which Avery, Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb summered together in Provincetown, on Cape Cod. Friends since the 1930s, when they spent numerous summers working in each other’s company, the artists rekindled their association during fruitful summers at the popular artists’ colony between 1957 and 1961. A degree of reciprocity between Avery and the Abstract Expressionists, who found such a potent example in his work, is strikingly apparent in these works. Avery started to paint on an ever larger scale, further refining his visual vocabulary while pushing his imagery to the edge of abstraction. This new pictorial realm, in which abstraction and representation are not immediately distinguishable from each other, reaches its zenith in works such as Yacht Race in Fog, 1959, which depicts sailboats emerging from a field of candescent colour as through a dense haze. Avery drew on the experience of being on Cape Cod when painting Yellow Grasses, Gray Dune, 1962, which he completed a year after his final visit to Provincetown. It gives an impression of subtle haziness, as if he were remembering the scene with tenderness. The effect is achieved in part by Avery’s use of a soft rag rather than a brush to cover large areas of canvas with diluted pigment, softening the contours of his scheme.
Further paintings on view include the important landscape Ten Pound Island (Sea and Rocks), 1956, a view of the harbour at Gloucester, Massachusetts – once the site of a lighthouse where Winslow Homer stayed and painted in 1880 – in which Avery imbues a simplified scheme of rocks and sea with a highly evocative sense of New England temperature and light. Specifics of place are similarly revealed in the oil painting Palms, 1951, and its related work on paper, Evening Palms, 1951, which are distinctly Floridian in both their subject matter and range of subtly sun-washed greens, greys, and earth colours.
Avery sketched directly from the human figure throughout his career and, beginning in the 1930s, was a member of an informal sketch group that also included Rothko and Gottlieb. Completed in 1956, Blue Gray Nude is derived from a much earlier pencil sketch, from 1936, and reveals radical distortion of form softened by the subtle harmonies of his palette. Still life, an important part of Avery’s work from the 1920s onwards, is represented by White Pitcher, 1946, a highly refined image in which the artist, paring back on both detail and colour, creates a sense of simplicity and harmony. Here, as in other works on display, it might be tempting to see a trajectory in Avery’s art edging ever closer towards abstraction. However, while seeking to express an idea in its simplest form, Avery never sought pure abstraction for himself. Above all, he is an artist who resists categorisation. “I never have any rules to follow,” he stated in 1952, “I follow myself.”
Born in Altmar, New York, in 1885, Milton Avery moved with his family to Hartford, Connecticut in 1905. After studying at the Connecticut League of Art Students, he worked in a succession of night jobs in order to paint during the daytime. Avery moved to New York in 1925 and in 1926 married Sally Michel, whose earnings as an illustrator enabled him to concentrate more fully on painting. His first exhibition in New York was in 1927, though it was not until 1935 that he had his first one-man exhibition, at the Valentine Gallery, New York. In 1944, his first solo museum exhibition opened at the Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, DC. In 1952, he visited Europe for the first time, travelling to London, Paris and the French Riviera. In the same year, a retrospective exhibition of Avery’s work opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art. In 1960, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, presented a retrospective exhibition; a second retrospective was held at the Whitney in 1982. In 1962, Milton Avery: Paintings 1930-1960 by Hilton Kramer, the first monograph on Avery, was published. Milton Avery died on 3 January 1965 in New York, aged 79.
Avery’s work is represented in museums and private collections worldwide, including: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA; Museum of Modern Art, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Tate, London; Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art, Madrid, Spain; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.
Two new books on Milton Avery will be published by Victoria Miro in June Extensively illustrated, a new 116-page hardback publication includes an essay by Edith Devaney, Contemporary Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts and co-curator of the recent Abstract Expressionism exhibition, examining the development of Milton Avery’s career and his influence within the canon of American art. Additional commentary examines Avery’s only visit to Europe, in 1952, and pairings of Avery’s oils and related works on paper.
A window into the working life of Milton Avery, a special edition, two volume publication includes a facsimile of a 200- page sketchbook completed by Avery in the South of France in 1952, and a picture essay of the artist’s New York home and studio, photographed by Gautier Deblonde.
A concurrent exhibition of Milton Avery’s work takes place at Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE, 7 June – 29 July 2017.
Private Days (by invitation only)
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Vernissage (by invitation only)
Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Thursday, 15 June 2017
11am to 7pm
Friday, 16 June 2017
11am to 7pm
Saturday, 17 June 2017
11am to 7pm
Sunday, 18 June 2017
11am to 7pm