Exhibitions: Williamsburg Murals: A Rediscovery

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Williamsburg Murals: A Rediscovery

  • Dates: March 30, 1990 through April 2009
  • Collections: American Art
Press Releases ?
  • February 1990: The New York City Housing Authority has rediscovered and restored five important murals, long believed to be lost or destroyed, at the Williamsburg Housing Project in Brooklyn. Thought to be the first and among the most important nonobjective wall paintings in the United States, the murals will be on long-term loan to The Brooklyn Museum from the Housing Authority. The installation, entitled The Williamsburg Murals: A Rediscovery, will go on view March 30, 1990, in the Museum’s Glass Corridor, located on the first floor.

    The murals, executed by pioneer American abstractionists Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-1981), Balcomb Greene (b. 1904), Paul Kelpe (b. 1902), and Albert Swinden (1899 or 1901-1961), are part of a group of works commissioned by the New York Mural Division of the Works Project Administration/Federal Art Project in 1936 for installation in the public areas of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Housing Project, a public housing development designed by William Lescaze. The head of the Mural Division, Burgoyne Diller, made an unprecedented decision in awarding the mural commissions to these young, largely unknown artists who worked in avant-garde styles, since his decision came when the prevailing subject matter in American art centered on narrative scenes of American life. He believed the nonobjective subject matter would be better suited for the recreation rooms for which the murals were created and, through his support for these artists, gave significant impetus to the acceptance of abstraction as a valid mode of imagery in American public art.

    The five murals, which include a 17-by-7-foot painting by Ilya Bolotowsky, the best-known artist of the group, and two by Paul Kelpe, a founding member of the American Abstract Artists organization, fell victim to passive neglect over the decades. In time, the rooms were converted into offices or storage areas where the works of art remained ignored and eventually hidden under layers of paint.

    The Housing Authority’s diligent efforts to reclaim these historic paintings were brought to fruition under the guidance of Authority Chairman Emanuel P. Popolizio. The long rescue process has included documenting and locating the works and obtaining funding for the murals’ restoration, the latter of which was accomplished by Margaret Watherston, Inc.

    The Williamsburg Murals: A Rediscovery has been organized at The Brooklyn Museum by Barbara Dayer Gallati, Associate Curator of American Painting and Sculpture. It is a long-term installation made possible through the New York City Housing Authority with the generous support of The J. M. Kaplan Fund, the Republic National Bank of New York, and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

    The restoration of the murals was made possible through funding from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, The Bay Foundation, and The Cowles Charitable Trust.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 01-03/1990, 039-40. View Original 1 . View Original 2

  • March 13, 1990: CZECH MODERNISM. On March 27 Charlotta Kotik and Ralph McKay, Curator Anthology Film Archives, will tape an interview for The Casper Citron Show. The program is heard in New York on WOR, 10:00 pm-midnight on Saturdays. Air date to come. Journalists from Welcome (the Philadelphia version of the Village Voice) and Insight (a regional newsmagazine targeted to the Washington, D. C. audience) were here to view the exhibition recently, as was the art critic for the Chelsea/Westside News and Commonweal. The April issue of Artforum will also contain an article. WNYC is coming out to the Museum to cover the show and to tape an interview with Charlotta this coming Friday. She has also taped an interview for National Public Radio which will be heard nationwide. And, you have all seen Michael Kimmelman’s New York Times review as well as Amei Wallach’s article in Newsday. Jerry Tallmer of the New York Post will be at the Museum Wednesday morning to review the exhibition.

    WILLIAMSBURG MURALS: A REDISCOVERY
    will receive major national attention when the exhibition is featured on Sunday Today (the Sunday morning version of the Today Show with Garrick Utley) to be seen nationally on the NBC TV network. They will use footage from the Housing Authority videotape and will have a crew at the opening on March 29. It is tentatively scheduled to air on Sunday, April 9.

    YALTA 1945/WINTER IN MOSCOW 1977. Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid will be interviewed about the Grand Lobby installation by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, heard throughout the country on National Public Radio. Air date to come. Kay Lawson of New York magazine and Pam Heller of Connoisseur will attend the Contributors’ Circle Preview on March 15.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 01-03/1990, 047. View Original

  • March 1991: The Brooklyn Museum will host a public symposium, The Williamsburg Murals: A Rediscovery, on Saturday, April 27, 1991 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the new Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium on the third floor. Thought to be the first nonobjective murals executed under public commission in the United States, the five murals were believed to have been either lost or destroyed until their rediscovery in the 1970s at the Williamsburg Housing Project, where they were installed in the 1930s. After undergoing restoration they were placed on long-term loan to The Brooklyn Museum from the New York City Housing Authority.

    The murals, executed by pioneer American abstractionists Ilya Bolotowsky (1907-1981), Balcomb Greene (1904-1990), Paul Kelpe (1902-1985), and Albert Swinden (1899 or 1901-1961), are part of a group of works commissioned by the New York Mural Division of the Works Projects Administration, Federal Art Project in 1936 for installation in the public areas of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg Housing Project.

    The daylong symposium will examine the history and rescue of the murals, the emergence and patronage of American abstract art, and the design by William Lescaze of the Williamsburg Housing Projects.

    Among the speakers will be Barbara Haskell, curator, Whitney Museum of American Art; Margaret Watherston, whose firm Margaret Watherston Inc., restored the paintings; Virginia Mecklenburg, Chief Curator, National Museum of American Art; Francis V. O’Connor, Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, Institute for the Humanities, University of Texas Medical School; and Eugene A. Santomasso, Associate Professor of Art History, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

    The registration fee for the symposium is $20 nonmembers; $10 members, senior citizens, and students. Optional buffet lunch $12. Further information: (718) 638-5000, ext. 230 or TDD (718) 783-6501.

    This symposium is made possible, in part, by the generous support of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Republic National Bank of New York, and the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 01-06/1991, 027-28. View Original 1 . View Original 2

Press Coverage of this Exhibition ?

  • Events: Artworks (W.P.A. and Beaux)March 29, 1990 "LEAD: Art of Place Circa 1936, Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue; 718-638-5000. Art of Place Circa 1936, Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway at Washington Avenue; 718-638-5000. ''The Williamsburg Murals: A Rediscovery,'' an exhibition of five non-objective wall paintings by Ilya Bolotowsky, Balcomb Greene, Paul Kelpe and..."
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