New-York Historical Society

New York, NY



John Koch: Painting a New York Life

October 16, 2001 -- January 27, 2002


What I paint has been created in New York out of the substance of the city, but it is very much a thing that I have made myself. --John Koch


"John Koch: Painting a New York Life," the highlight of the Fall 2001 exhibition season at The New-York Historical Society, examines the achievement of a neglected post-War master realist and portraitist. In his elegant apartment overlooking Central Park, John Koch (1909-1978) rendered in precise and painterly detail his world of artists' models and music students, cocktail parties and conversations, tabletop still lifes and window vistas. This major exhibition gathers masterworks of realism created by Koch in the 1950s and 1960s and early 1970s as he carried the representational torch in an age of abstraction. The exhibition, which will include approximately fifty paintings, ten drawings and personal memorabilia, is drawn from major public and private collections. John Koch: Painting a New York Life is curated by Mina Rieur Weiner. A handsome accompanying catalog includes essays by Philip Lopate, Elizabeth Sussman, Michael Thomas, Grady Turner and Mina Rieur Weiner. (left: Cocktail Party, 1956, The New-York Historical Society)

According to those who knew him, John Koch composed his persona as carefully as he arranged the objects in the still lifes and interiors he painted. He and his wife, Dora Zaslavsky, a distinguished piano coach, constructed a private world created, as Koch wrote, "out of the substance of the city."

A largely self-taught artist, who spent over four years in Paris studying paintings at the Louvre, Koch developed a formidable technique evident in his exquisite rendering of light on surfaces; his evocation of the interplay of music and art; and his representation of the detail and texture of a New York life. While Koch derived a substantial income from commissioned portraits, he believed his artistry was revealed in his depiction of interactions between people and the space around them. (left: Rest Period, 1974, The New-York Historical Society)

Koch's work resisted the trend toward abstraction prevalent in his time. He chronicled a variety of relationships as experienced in the mid-twentieth century: friends, lovers, spouses, artists and models, teachers and students (even apartment dwellers and contractors!). Many of the paintings record members of John and Dora's social circle, most of them artists, writers and musicians, who participated in their European-style salon, an oasis of high culture and refinement in New York City.

The exhibition was curated for the Historical Society by Mina Rieur Weiner. The exhibition and catalogue are funded by the Robert Lehman Foundation.

Five catalogue essays provide a context for viewing Koch's work. Journalist Michael Thomas expresses his enthusiastic personal view of why Koch is important today. Author Phillip Lopate provides a review of the various cultural movements that coexisted in New York when Koch was active. Art historian Elisabeth Sussman discusses the realists in relation to other art movements of the period. Curator and critic Grady Turner interprets Koch's various relationships as portrayed in his paintings. Exhibition curator Mina Weiner records reminiscences of the people in Koch's social circle. (left: The Lesson, 1970, The New-York Historical Society)

Phillip Lopate is the author of three personal essay collections (Bachelorhood, Against Joie De Vivre, Portrait of My Body), and the editor of two anthologies, Writing New York and The Art of the Personal Essay. He is Professor of English at Hofstra University, and currently a Fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers, New York Public Library.

Elisabeth Sussman, an independent curator formerly of the Whitney Museum of American Art, is currently working on retrospective exhibitions of the artists Eva Hesse and Diane Arbus scheduled to open at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2002 and 2003.

Michael M. Thomas, a former member of the curatorial staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a columnist on cultural and other subjects for the New York Observer and the author of seven novels including Green Monday and Hanover Place. (left: Central Park Looking North, 1967, The New-York Historical Society)

Grady T. Turner, the former director of exhibitions at The New-York Historical Society, is a curator and art critic, published regularly in Art in America, ARTnews, Flash Art, The Village Voice and Bomb, where he is a contributing editor.

Mina Rieur Weiner, an independent museum consultant and exhibition curator, has organized exhibitions on New York City subjects for The New-York Historical Society, the Museum of the City of New York, South Street Seaport Museum and other institutions.

rev. 6/19/01

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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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