The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Ivan Albright: Magic Realist

Ivan Albright, Flesh (Smaller than Tears Are the Little Blue Flowers), 1928

Ivan Albright: Magic Realist, a retrospective exhibition focusing on some 45 master paintings of American artist Ivan Albright (1897-1983), whose works of intricate detail and macabre realism distinguish him as on e of the 20th century's most original artists, will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, June 17 through September 7, 1997.

The exhibition was organized by The Art Institute of Chicago.

Best known for his still-lifes, character studies, and self-portraits, Albright's haunting compositions are most often noted for their idiosyncratic combination of intricate detail, opulent color, and multiple vantage points. His meticulously rendered images, painted from elaborately constructed sets, often took several years to complete.

Astonishing and disquieting portraits and still-lifes reveal a vision that is as merciless as it is romantic, often suggesting narrative situations shadowed by corruption, death, and decay. The artist's preoccupation with the ravages of time, so evident throughout his works, is epitomized in the Picture of Dorian Gray (1943-44) -- created for the film of the same name -- and echoed in the 25 self-portraits he produced between 1931 and 1983, which are included in the exhibition.

"Ivan Albright has been called a realist, a surrealist, and an expressionist. However, he considered only the Old Masters as his own peers," said William S. Lieberman, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Chairman of the Metropolitan Museum's Department of 20th Century Art. "He observed their techniques and imagery, and also respected their frequent representations of timeless themes."

Ivan Albright and his identical twin brother, Malvin, were born near Chicago in February 1897. Their father, Adam Emory Albright, was a successful landscape painter who had studied under Thomas Eakins. After serving as a medical draftsman during World War I, Ivan Albright returned to Chicago, where he and his brother enrolled at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. In choosing the paths that their studies would take, the brothers flipped a coin, determining that Ivan would pursue painting, and Malvin sculpture. Throughout their careers, however, each exhibited great skill in both mediums.

Ivan Albright, There Were No Flowers Tonight (Midnight), 1929


After graduating in 1923, Ivan and Malvin continued their studies in Philadelphia and New York before returning to their father's studio outside Chicago. By the early 1930's, Ivan had developed his individual style of sharp-focus painting, featuring half-length figures and elaborate still-lifes that seem to transcend reality with their poignant melancholy.

Offering an uncompromising commentary on the human condition, he explored the vanitas theme -- a moralizing reminder that life's pleasures are momentary and that death is inevitable -- in works that display a remarkable fascination with the inexorable process of death and decay. His paintings include extraordinary assemblages of everyday objects, and his portraits magnify every facial wrinkle, blemish, and physical imperfection. Among his most masterful works in this genre are: Poor Room -- There Is No Time, No End , No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever Without End (The Window) (1942-63), a work that took 21 years to complete; and Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida (1929-30) an unforgettable portrait of an aging woman looking forlornly into a mirror.

The poetic titles he often gave his paintings, combined with his depiction of ordinary yet evocative objects, were intended to allow the viewer to imagine complex narratives in each work.

In 1942, Albright won first medal for the best painting at the Metropolitan Museum's Artists for Victory exhibition with his 8-foot-tall painting That Which I Should Gave Done I Did Not Do (The Door) (1931-41), which consolidated many of the technical, compositional, and thematic ideas that he had pursued in earlier work.

The next year, the Albright twins were invited to Hollywood to execute two paintings for the film version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. While Malvin would complete his ultimately unused portrait of the movie's young anti-hero in four months, Ivan spent almost a year laboring over the intricately composed portrait of the decaying Dorian Gray that would shock the movie's audiences and firmly establish the artist's notoriety.

Throughout his long career Albright showed great talent in other media as well. He was an accomplished draftsman and printmaker, as demonstrated by the selection of works on paper included in the exhibition.

Works presented in Ivan Albright: Magic Realist are drawn primarily from The Art Institute of Chicago, with additional loans from U.S. public and private collections.

In conjunction with the exhibition the Museum will offer films, gallery talks, lectures, and other educational programs. On Saturday, July 26, at 4 p.m., the Museum will present MGM's classic film The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), directed by Albert Lewin. The film's star, Hurd Hatfield, will attend the screening and discuss his portrayal of the title character.

Ivan Albright, Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida, 1929-30


Accompanying the exhibition is a 200-page catalogue with approximately 200 color and black-and-white illustrations, published by The Art Institute of Chicago. The publication was organized by Courtney Graham Donnell, Associate Curator in the Department of Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture at The Art Institute of Chicago, with contributions by Ms. Donnell; Susan S. Weininger, Associate Professor of Art History at Roosevelt University, Chicago; and Robert Cozzolino, Archival Assistant at the Art Institute. It was edited by Susan F. Rossen. Illustrations include environments that the artist assembled and used as models for his painting, diagrams, sketches, and other documentary material. The catalogue is available in hardcover ($50) and softcover ($29.95) in the Metropolitan Museum's bookshop.

Ivan Albright was on view earlier this year at The Art Institute of Chicago, where it was curated by Courtney Graham Donnell. In New York, Ivan Albright: Magic Realist is coordinated by William S. Lieberman, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Chairman, Department of 20th Century Art, and Anne L. Strauss, Research Associate. Exhibition design is by Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Designer, with lighting by Zack Zanolli, Lighting Designer, and graphics by Sue Koch, Senior Graphic Designer.


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