Fritz Bultman: An American Abstractionist L O U I S I A N A
A R T
S C I E N C E
M U S E U M
October 19, 2013â€“january 5, 2014
AN AMERICAN ABSTRACTIONIST
King Zulu, 1959, oil on canvas, 72 x 108 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts.
Fritz Bultman: An American Abstractionist During the post-war years between 1945 and 1952, a new form of artistic expression known as Abstract Expressionism emerged, placing New York at the center of the global art world for the first time and catapulting the artistic careers of Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and others. Fritz Bultman (1919-1985), an artist from Louisiana, took part in this seminal moment in American art. Bultman, along with these artists, deliberately sought to invent a new form of expression that could adequately convey the uneasy cultural and political climate of the day.
Massachussets. Hofmann had opened a summer program there in addition to a school in New York. Bultman remained under Hans Hofmann’s tutelage until 1941.
The experience impacted the whole of his future life, and all his subsequent art production. Bultman absorbed Hofmann’s theories on light, color, and compositional polarity, as well as his conception of the picture plane – what Bultman termed “fullness,” the manner in which an image fills the entire canvas. His early paintings and drawings as well as his later collages recall Hofmann’s geometric reductions and the diagrams he used to illustrate pictorial concepts. Similarly, Bultman’s mature Anthony Fred “Fritz” Bultman paintings of the 1950s and III was born into the prominent 1960s share Hofmann’s use New Orleans family that of a thick, crust-like impasto, operated a funeral home gestural swaths of rich color, known as the House of and simplified form. Bultman Bultman. His family socialized enjoyed a lifelong friendship with a number of artists and with the Hofmanns, and writers of the day, including Fritz Bultman pictured with his painting Acteon in 1949. through them met a number of Morris Graves who took him Photographer Sandy Campbell. like-minded artists, many of sketching in Audubon Park. Image courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman. whom became associated with In 1935, Bultman traveled to Abstract Expressionism, and his future wife Jeanne Lawson. Munich, where he had the fortuitous chance to meet the wife of legendary artist and teacher Hans Hofmann, who was to play a pivotal role in the development of Abstract Expressionism. Taking a liking to the 16-year-old, Miz Hofmann acted as his surrogate parent and took him in as a boarder for the ensuing two years while he traveled and studied at the Munich Preparatory School. Returning to America, Bultman spent an unfulfilling year at the New Bauhaus in Chicago studying architecture upon his father’s directive. In 1938, Miz Hofmann arranged for him to join her husband at the artist enclave of Provincetown,
Establishing residence in Provincetown, the Bultmans invited Tony Smith to design and help build a studio there. Smith was a fellow student of Bultman’s at the New Bauhaus, and became one of the foremost sculptors of the 1960s. He never became a licensed architect. Yet, the studio building is considered one of his crowing architectural achievements, and its simplified, angular shapes and geometric structure are reflected in a number of Bultman’s works dating from that time period. 2
AN AMERICAN ABSTRACTIONIST
Dividing his time between the peaceful enclave of Provincetown and the lively yet tumultuous New York art scene, Bultman spent time with a number of the artists who were to become known as the Abstract Expressionists. These artists were all about the same age, and many had met through the Federal Art Project of the 1930s or in schools like the Arts Students League or that of Hans Hofmann. A number of exhibitions of European avant-garde art already had taken place in New York, and the city was full of European émigrés, among them André Breton, Max Ernst, Roberto Matta, and occasionally Juan Miró. These artists were associated with Surrealism, an art that centered upon the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Applying the unpremeditated impulsiveness of Surrealism with the vigorous brushwork of Expressionism, the American artists tackled the canvas – which expanded in scale – with a brash, pioneering spirit. Originally meeting in coffee shops and bars, several artists ultimately banded together to rent a loft for use as a gathering place. TOP TO BOTTOM
Gravity at Nightfall, 1961, oil on canvas, 96 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts. Fritz Bultman at work on Tides in 1950. Image courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman.
The most famous meeting occurred at Studio 35 from April 21 to 23, 1950. The artists met with the intention of framing their artistic similarities into a defined movement but came to no agreement. Instead they jointly decided to protest a competition and exhibition to be held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled American Painting Today – 1950. They did so due to what they felt to be the jury’s extreme conservative bias and their exclusion from previous museum exhibitions of current work. Bultman was among those who signed the protest letter, which on Monday, May 22 became front page news in The New York Times. Inspired by the debacle, Life magazine decided to present a photo story documenting the winning entries as well as The Irascibles, as they were dubbed in the press. The image and accompanying story that appeared in the January 15, 1951 issue of Life aided public acceptance of the new art. Considered a “Who’s Who” of the artists “who achieved the triumph of American painting,” it catapulted the careers of those pictured. Unfortunately, Bultman was not in the famous photograph. He had accepted a grant to study sculpture in Italy and had departed the previous September. At the Istituto Statale d’Arte in Florence, he mastered the technique of bronze casting, including the age-old lost wax process. Primarily known as a painter, Bultman continued to produce three-dimensional forms intermittently over the next two decades. Despite this absence from the heady New York scene, Bultman was honored with a solo exhibition at the Kootz Gallery not long after his return in 1952 and managed to secure representation at the prestigious Martha Jackson Gallery seven years later, continuing to show there throughout the 1970s.
UPPER RIGHT Seascape, 1962, bronze, 7 x 22 x 8 in. Collection of Lynn Jahncke. ABOVE Third, 1961, oil on canvas, 48 x 96 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Clark.
AN AMERICAN ABSTRACTIONIST
Bultman along with his wife and two young sons took up residence in New York in 1952. They purchased a brownstone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a neighborhood that soon became home to a number of artists associated with Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock lived nearby, already well known for his unique painting mannerisms as well as his excessive drinking. Following his tragic death in 1956, Pollock’s wife Lee Krasner, a fellow student from the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, lived with the Bultmans for several months. Mark Rothko eventually settled in the next block. Bultman developed a particularly close social and intellectual relationship with Robert Motherwell, who moved into the brownstone that backed up to the Bultman home. Although best known for stark black and white painted canvases, Motherwell also was devoted to the medium of collage. Bultman was aware of his friend’s enthusiasm for collage, and no doubt received encouragement from him with regards to his own efforts.
Bultman’s first collages date from 1937, but it was not until the 1960s that his purposeful investigation of the medium began. He was well versed in the work of the French master Henri Matisse, a leading artist of the early 20th century who helped to define a number of revolutionary styles in art. Matisse’s bold handling of color, simple forms, and lyrical sense of line was not lost on Bultman, who likewise appreciated the arabesque shape of the female form, a motif that is particularly evident in Bultman’s drawings and collages. Inspired by Matisse’s process for making what he called “cut-outs,” Bultman painted entire drawing pads with unmixed gouache colors, ripped the paper into various, unpremeditated shapes – later relying on scissors – and arranged them spontaneously. Although Bultman successfully retained the vibrant color and geometric simplicity of Matisse’s cut-outs, they do not reiterate
the elder artist’s work. Matisse embraced the contrast between the resulting figuration and its background, and relied upon the rectangular structure that framed his flat compositions. Bultman by contrast sought to release the composition from its two-dimensional confinement. His method of randomly constructing the image from the center outward not only allowed for areas of texture to build, but also created a sense of tension. The resulting composition seems to push at the edges of the picture plane, a sensibility that is also indicative of his paintings. Bultman extended his efforts into yet another medium in the 1970s, inspired by the transformation of Matisse’s paper cut-outs into brilliant stained glass compositions. He designed windows for the chapel of the Bultman Funeral Home in New Orleans and had them fabricated in New Jersey. Perhaps in part due to the expense, his wife Jeanne Bultman chose to dedicate herself to learning the technique, and a number of stained glass windows ultimately were produced and installed under her direction in the residences of family, friends and a few private clients. The Bultmans’ most notable and extensive project was undertaken in 1981 by Kalamazoo College in Michigan for the Light Fine Arts Center. A monumental undertaking executed by the Bultmans along with a team of students, the windows were completed in 1984 and together measure 54 feet in width and consist of 3,000 pieces of stained glass. After a lengthy illness, Fritz Bultman died in Provincetown at age 66 in 1985, leaving behind a strong and lasting legacy. During his lifetime, he was held in high esteem by fellow artists, curators, and critics. His work is featured in lofty museum collections, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Yet his career did not rise to the same heights as some of his now legendary peers, presumably due to his absence from the famous 1950 Life magazine photograph. The fact that his versatility in more than one medium, notably
LEFT Fritz and Jeanne Bultman, Blue Yoke,
1980, stained glass, 43 x 27 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Grayson Bultman. ABOVE Window Over Water, 1979, painted papers,
57 x 48 in. Collection of the Haynie Family.
painting, sculpture, drawing and collage, confounded critics of the day, despite the consistency of his style, did not help matters. Nonetheless, Bultmanâ€™s artwork has withstood the test of time, and his reputation as an important American artist has grown steadily in respect and attention. He rightfully has taken his place in the history of art.
â€”Elizabeth Chubbuck Weinstein LASM Museum Curator
EXHIBITION CHECKLIST Untitled, 1939 Gouache on paper 11 x 8 ½ in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Untitled, 1939 Gouache on paper 9 x 12 ¼ in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts
Untitled (Semaphore), 1947 Oil on canvas 60 x 48 in. Collection of Mark and Cecilia Vondeheide, courtesy of Erbe Arts and Hollis Taggart Galleries
Cut Out, 1971 Painted papers 84 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts
Upwelling, 1979 Painted papers 48 x 89 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts
Via Porta Romana, 1952 Oil on Masonite 96 x 36 in. Anonymous Private Collection
Gravity at Nightfall, 1961 Oil on canvas 96 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Loner, 1961 Oil on canvas 30 x 25 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Albert Merola Gallery
Head No. 9, 1973 Bronze 17 ¼ x 9 ¾ x 9 in. New Orleans Museum of Art Collection
Window Over Water, 1979 Painted papers 57 x 48 in. Collection of the Haynie Family
Untitled, 1939 Gouache on paper 12 x 9 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts
Sun Figure, 1955 Oil on canvas 72 x 36 in. New Orleans Museum of Art Collection
Third, 1961 Oil on canvas 48 x 96 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Clark
Intrusion of Blue, 1974 Oil on canvas 72 x 96 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts
Untitled (figure drawing), 1939 Charcoal on paper 19 x 24 ¾ in. Gift of Jeanne Bultman Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection
Glutton of Autumn, 1956 Oil and graphite on board 20 ½ x 16 ½ in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman
Seascape, 1962 Bronze 7 x 22 x 8 in. Collection of Lynn Jahncke
Migrations, 1975 Painted papers 48 x 81 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman
Untitled (figure drawing), 1939 Charcoal on paper 24 ¾ x 19 in. Purchased through the L. Cary Saurage II Fund in honor of Alma Lee and H. N. Saurage Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection Untitled (still life), 1939 Oil on canvas 30 x 24 in. Purchased through the L. Cary Saurage II Fund in honor of Alma Lee and H. N. Saurage Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection Swimmer, 1946 Oil on canvas 60 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Doorkeeper, 1947 Oil on canvas 31 x 46 in. New Orleans Museum of Art Collection The Dog of Acteon, 1947 Oil on canvas 30 x 24 in. Anonymous Private Collection
Claretta III, 1957 Oil and graphite on board 20 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman Newspaper Collage Il, 1958 Newspaper and ink 30 x 22 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Wind Instrument, 1958 Bronze 11 x 21 x 8 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony F. Bultman IV Delta – The Lame Tramp, 1959 Oil on canvas 18 x 14 in. Courtesy of Hollis Taggart Galleries King Zulu, 1959 Oil on canvas 72 x 108 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Trembling Prairie No. 5, 1959 Oil on canvas 25 x 33 in. Courtesy of Gallery Schlesinger Limited
Untitled, 1962 Painted papers with paint 29 x 23 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony F. Bultman IV Magenta and Ochre, 1963 Oil on canvas 16 x 20 in. Courtesy of Gallery Schlesinger Limited The Cloak II, 1963 Bronze 13 x 4 x 3 in. New Orleans Museum of Art Collection Leaf, 1963 Bronze 13 x 5 ½ x 5 in. New Orleans Museum of Art Collection Yellow and Purple, 1964 Painted papers 20 x 26 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Albert Merola Gallery Red Rope, 1967 Painted papers with paint 36 x 32 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts
Between Windows, 1976 Painted papers 68 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Blue Yoke Two, 1976 Painted papers 47 x 30 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Grayson Bultman Seaworm, 1976 Oil on canvas 72 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts The Beach, 1977-78 Painted papers 86 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Dark Wave II, 1977 Oil on canvas with Cray-Pas 26 x 33 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony F. Bultman IV Bird in the Sun, 1978 Painted papers 69 x19 in. Anonymous Private Collection
Fritz and Jeanne Bultman Bird In The Sun (second version), 1980 Stained glass 68 x 18 in. Collection of Lynn Jahncke Fritz and Jeanne Bultman Blue Yoke, 1980 Stained glass 43 x 27 in. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Grayson Bultman Additions, 1981 Painted papers 88 x 48 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Edelman Arts Garden Spring, 1982 Painted papers 96 x 48 in. New Orleans Museum of Art Collection Seaspawn, 1982 Painted papers 40 x 30 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Albert Merola Gallery The Blue Wave, 1983 Oil on canvas 48 x 58 in. Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Robert J. Freedman Aurat, 1984 Painted papers 29 x 23 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Fritz Bultman/Albert Merola Gallery The Hook, 1984 Painted papers 29 ¼ x 23 ¼ in. Whitney Bank Collection
Winged Boot II, 1969 Painted papers 70 x 48 in. Anonymous Private Collection
Exhibition sponsors include the Cary Saurage Fund in honor of Alma Lee and H. N. Saurage, Jr. and the Alma Lee and H. N. Saurage, Jr. Fund, both of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation; Fran and Leroy Harvey; Roger Ogden; Dee Dee Reilly; Jacki and Brian Schneider; and Moo and Marvin Svendson. This exhibition has been funded in part by a Local Project Assistance Grant from the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, funded by the East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President and Metro Council, with promotional support provided by WRKF.
COVER IMAGE Untitled (still life), 1939, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 in. Purchased through the L. Cary Saurage II Fund in honor of Alma Lee and H. N. Saurage. Louisiana Art & Science Museum Collection.
Published on Oct 19, 2013
Published on Oct 19, 2013
Exhibition catalogue from Fritz Bultman Retrospective at the Louisiana Art & Science Museum - October 19, 2013 - January 5, 2014