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American Modernists in Wyoming: George McNeil, Ilya Bolotowsky, and Leon Kelly

Jan. 30 - Aug. 7, 2010

American Modernists in Wyoming: George McNeil, Ilya Bolotowsky, and Leon Kelly presents the work of three artists, each one exploring a different form of abstraction in their work.

This exhibition presents the work of three American artists, each with a unique approach to abstraction in their work. George McNeil (American, 1908-1995), Ilya Bolotowsky (American/Russian, 1907-1981), and Leon Kelly (American, 1901-1982) were working during the height of American Modernism.

At the onset of World War II, numerous artists immigrated to the United States from Europe and brought with them artistic approaches that supplemented the work of American artists. It was during this time, the late 1930s and early 1940s, that there was a noted decline in the once avant-garde Cubist tradition, signaling that the Modernist premise had at last migrated to the United States, in conjunction with industrial production and political power. The resulting shift in the art world from Europe to the United States saw artists developing new forms of expressionist art. These American artists sought to find an individual style during the later 1940s that resulted in development of the abstract manner.

The work of George McNeil is a form of abstraction in which the essential aspects of the medium are more fully exposed and acknowledged. He used the theories of the Abstract Expressionists emphasis on spontaneous and subconscious creation, which also combined the emotional intensity of the German Expressionists and the anti-figural aesthetic of the European schools of Futurism and Cubism.

At the same time, artists such as Ilya Bolotowsky took the purely optical premise from the Cubist tradition to create the illusion of depth by eliminating the use of the figure altogether, and by using the juxtaposition and location of different planes of color. These artists combined the ideals from the European purists of the 1920s and 1930s with an abstract view of the non-objective. This style of art sought to carry the Abstract beyond what is depicted, to the underlying sense of emotional charge.

Many artists looked to the Cubist tradition for certain technical developments, which is evident in each new abstract style. Artists like Leon Kelly, for example, developed a new canon of Modernist painting by elaborating on the precedent of the collage, using novel forms of montage to create works that combined themes central to the Surrealist movement from Europe and new forms of abstraction

These three artists share another commonality, as they were professors in the University of Wyoming Art Department at different points in their respective careers. In March, the University of Wyoming Art Museum will host a retrospective of American artist Harold Garde. Garde was a pupil of McNeil, Bolotowsky, and Kelly when he came to the University of Wyoming on the GI Bill in the 1940s. Traces of their influence can be seen in Gardes innovative approach to subject matter and color. This exhibition provides the stylistic background to Gardes extensive career as a painter.

  • Funded in part by the National Advisory Board of the UW Art Museum.


Left: Ilya Bolotowsky (America/Russian, 1907-1981), Untitled, 1952, oil on canvas on board, 25-3/4 x 34 inches, image courtesy of Rehs Gallery

Center: Leon Kelly (America, 1901-1982), Bather Emerging from the Sea, 1952, oil on canvas on board, 36 x 26 inches, image courtesy of Gratz Gallery

Right: George McNeil (American, 1908-1995), Estuary, 1957, oil on paper on plywood, 28 x 22 inches, image courtesy of ACME Gallery

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