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LOUIS RIBAK


Untitled (Black & White Leaves), 1970 Ink on paper 25.63 x 19.25 in.


LOUIS RIBAK APRIL 28 – JUNE 29, 2018

19 E AST 66 TH S TR EET

N EW Y O R K , NY 10065

212.202.3270

W W W. R O SE N B E R GC O . C O M


INTRODUCTION

L

OUIS RIBAK was in all respects fully committed to his aesthetic vision, to his

independence of thought, and to his social convictions. He explored and conveyed these convictions over the years through an extraordinarily wide range of works from the Ashcan School to ethereal and bold abstract compositions.

Bullfights in Mexico or the discovery of sumi-e and Japanese paper were fodder for his restless creativity, all imbued by fine draftsmanship. It is a privilege for Rosenberg & Co. to be able to bring to light many pieces of Louis Ribak’s

oeuvre that heretofore have never been offered for public viewing. The ensemble offers a rare and heady discovery of this crtical Taos Modernist. This exhibition would not have been possible, of course, without the support of The University of New Mexico Foundation which has the privilege and the responsibility of maintaining the Mandelman-Ribak Collection. Henry Nemcik, the President of the Foundation was kind enough to give us free rein in composing the show. Suzanne Awen, the Executive Project Officer, is, as always, an endless source of careful and timely information on any of the works. We cannot thank them both enough.

M ARI ANNE R O SENBERG

Photograph by Thomas Ezio Zudick, 1970 Courtesy of The Beatrice Mandelman-Louis Ribak Collection, Special Collections and Center for Southwest Research

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LOUIS RIBAK

A

MERICAN ARTIST, LOUIS RIBAK, was an integral force in the development of

the Taos Moderns. This postwar generation of artists became an important crossroads in Modern abstract painting, a place where the influences of Europe merged and blended with the East and West coasts of the United

States. These artists reshaped the conservative Taos western-art scene into a center of American Modernism that focused on abstractions of nature. Last winter, the gallery presented a show focusing on Taos Modernist, Beatrice Mandelman’s, work from the 1960s. Despite being married, venturing into abstraction, and occupying the epicenter of the Taos Modernist scene, Louis Ribak and Beatrice Mandelman maintained their aesthetic distinction. They each expressed their powerful creative energies in explorations of abstraction and confronted the Southwest’s majestic landscape differently. While Mandelman’s brightly colored forms push against the surface of the canvas to express the landscape’s immensity, Ribak’s forms float and are contained within the borders of the painting, conveying a transcendental reaction to the land. This exhibition presents works from throughout Ribak’s career, starting with the figurative, realist works belonging to the Ashcan movement and venturing into his abstract explorations replete with organic, biomorphic forms and a calligraphic style. In 1912, Ribak’s family immigrated to New York to flee the religious persecution in Tsarist Russia. Coming from a poor, working-class family, Louis Ribak worked tirelessly to pay for art school. In 1920, he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Art in Philadelphia and then at the Arts Students League in New York City in 1922. Driven by his status as a Jewish refugee and his parents’ socio-economic status, Ribak’s early work reflected issues that afflicted the poor and a desire to portray humanity. He often exhibited with a cooperative, non-profit association of about 60 artists known as An American Group Inc. The cooperative endorsed various causes of general and artistic welfare. During this period, Ribak painted boxers, pool halls, and Pennsylvania miners. Ribak’s cofounding of the pro-Soviet John Reed Club allowed him to stand up for the working man,

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Mandelman and Ribak, 1949 Photograph by Justin Locke, courtesy of The Beatrice Mandelman-Louis Ribak Collection, Special Collections and Center for Southwest Research

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but also set him up for years of government surveillance. Ribak’s anti-Fascist sentiments and interest in the working class were also attuned to international politics and events, explaining his figurative oil on board work, Guernica (1936). The pained faces and scenes of flight in this work encompass Ribak’s visceral reaction to this catastrophic event. Unlike Picasso’s abstracted interpretation of that carnage, Ribak’s social realist work veers toward documentary. This is not to say that all of Ribak’s works during this time were figurative. In fact, while Ribak exhibited in New York group shows, it was his landscape works by which art critics were most impressed. However, under the influence of his Arts Students League teacher, John Sloan, and other Ashcan School artists, Ribak’s work remained imbued with an overt social consciousness for a few more years. By the early 1940s, most New York artists began experimenting with abstraction and the solemnity of the Ashcan School was waning. Ribak began using brighter palettes and increasingly isolated the properties of color, design, and line. In 1942, Ribak married Beatrice Mandelman, whom he had met while taking classes at the Arts Students League in New York. Shortly after, Ribak was drafted for World War II. Upon receiving a medical discharge two years later, John Sloan convinced him to move to New Mexico. Scholarship on the artist describes Ribak’s move to New Mexico as a pivotal moment in his career. Although many believe that Ribak’s decision to leave New York was the result of FBI harassment that preceded the McCarthy era, Ribak also revealed that he had tired of the growing divisions between New York artists. The artist felt caught between traditional realist painting and the emerging Abstract Expressionists led by Arshile Gorky, Ad Reinhardt, and Jackson Pollock. In an attempt to avoid association with a singular school of thought, Ribak left for New Mexico. Ribak and Mandelman were captivated by the Southwest’s magnificence, not only with the expansive horizons and nature, but also with the Native American peoples and other New Mexican, Spanish inhabitants. Native Americans in the Navajoland often invited artists to document their impressions of indigenous rituals and life. Thus, before transitioning to fullfledged abstraction, Ribak’s figurative works such as Rising Horse (1944) documented life on Native American reservations. In 1947, Ribak opened the Taos Valley Art School for returning veterans who used their G.I. Bill benefits to pay for tuition and living expenses. Given that Ribak left New York to avoid petty artistic fighting and warring emerging pedagogies, it comes as no surprise that Ribak

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offered his students no set ideology. Unlike other Modernists who had opened schools in New Mexico, such as Emil Bisttram, Ribak proclaimed, “I’m not truly for anything… I’m against everything” (Witt, Taos Moderns, 3). Ribak’s work evolved into full-fledged abstraction after visiting Mexico in the 1940s. Similar to being enraptured by the Native American lifestyle, Ribak and Mandelman were taken with Mexican culture and would document their experiences there, which can be seen in Study of Ring, Bullfight (1950s). In the 1975 catalogue of Ribak’s retrospective at the Museum of New Mexico, Donald Strel notes that the artist’s yearly sojourns to San Miguel de Allende and his subsequent encounters with pre-Columbian art and architecture, such as that of the Aztecs and Mayans, influenced his changing use of line, forms, and shapes. Ribak’s immersion in the Southwest’s terrain and cultures were formative experiences that drove him to explore the land’s mysticism through the lens of abstraction. Unlike Taos artists before him who strove to replicate the Southwest’s beauty and convey the “sublime,” Ribak turned to abstraction to understand the truth of the landscape. As Mandelman stated in an interview, “We had to start all over again. We spent the first couple of years painting the landscape as a means of coming to understand the West” (Witt, Taos Moderns, 37). As the works selected for this exhibition reveal, Ribak typically tackled landscapes with vertical compositions. Unlike the horizontal format of a landscape, which solicits depth and receding space, Ribak’s vertical format seems to imply that the top and bottom of the picture are equidistant from the viewer, just as they would be in a portrait. The vertical format also allows the forms to float in space, rather than be tethered to representations of the land. It is unclear what the forms represent, but the use of primary colors and insight into Ribak’s prolific, fervent working style reveal them to be his immediate impressions and observations. These vertical, abstract landscapes — some on a massive scale — work to envelop the viewer and express the landscape’s transcendental properties. When Ribak returned to New York in the 1950s during the height of Abstract Expressionism, he was influenced by Jackson Pollock’s and Franz Kline’s paint-dragging technique, which is apparent in some of his works. It was also after this stint in New York that he developed more of a lyrical abstract style. According to Mandelman and other artists who knew him, Ribak was constantly working and observing nature. Mandelman describes, “He drew everything — animals, rocks, clouds, skies, earth, growth” (Witt, Modernists in Taos, 109). These direct transcriptions of nature resulted in calligraphic tendencies, which are apparent in many of his works on paper and paintings.

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Louis Ribak on the Steps of Gallery Ribak, Taos, 1955 Photographer unknown, courtesy of The Beatrice Mandelman-Louis Ribak Collection, Special Collections and Center for Southwest Research

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These calligraphic tendencies are most apparent in a series of cacti drawings. Initially, these drawings were on standard size paper, as seen in Untitled (Black & White Leaves). However, as Ribak continued to experiment with the impact of large scale, he began a series of 73 x 36” scroll drawings on Japanese rice paper mounted on muslin or hand woven manta cloth

(Ellis, Louis Ribak: The Late Drawings, 1). Recently, scholars have attempted to understand whether Ribak’s calligraphic style was related to an interest in Zen Buddhism. In fact, Ribak was interested in sumi-e (black ink painting), which originated in China, and was often employed in both dynamic Chinese and Japanese painting. In traditional sumi-e, the paintings resemble sketches where the white is representative of the universe while the black ink depicts material forms. In channeling their unconscious self, sumi-e artists capture the subject’s essence in an effortless manner, without thinking about technique or result. To capture the scene in the fewest possible strokes, only one brush stroke is allowed for each mark making touch-ups immediately evident. Given Ribak’s draughtsmanship, the artist was drawn to the immediacy of sumi-e. In Untitled (Scroll #06), Ribak’s spontaneous lines and washes play freely across the paper, as in Zen painting. The black brushstrokes activate the stark white paper and like sumi-e, Ribak refrains from reworking any of his marks. Thus, these calligraphic works — which have been likened to dendrite structures — are the embodiment of Ribak’s impressions of and spiritual engagement with the West’s terrain. Ribak is a critical figure of American Modernism. One of the most interesting things about the artist is that through his work’s evolution from socially-inclined figurative genre scenes to abstraction, Ribak remained committed to the notion of documentation and observation. He sought to capture and convey the essence of Taos. The artist notes in an interview, “Strangely enough, in my abstract work I consider myself still related to something — whether it’s thought or visual…I keep saying that I consider myself a realist” (Rand, Louis Ribak: The Late Paintings 25). Similar to Abstract Expressionism, Ribak’s works always derived from some element of the real world. However, unlike the Abstract Expressionists and other Modernists of Ribak’s generation, his transition as an artist is unique as the only Ashcan artist who applied that way of seeing to abstractions of the land. After years of recognition in the Southwest region, Rosenberg & Co. is proud to present Louis Ribak’s works in New York, and invites you to immerse yourself in these abstract explorations of the Taos landscape in hopes of understanding its truth.

A NGEL A PA ST O RELL I -S O SA R O SE N B E R G & C O .

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Untitled (Seated Nude), c.1920s Oil on canvas

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18 x 15 in.


Guernica, 1936 Oil on board

29.5 x 35 in.

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Rising Horse, 1944 Acrylic on canvas

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8 x 10 in.


Untitled, 1958 Gouache and collage on paper

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25.5 x 19 in.


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Yellow Experiment, c. 1950-1960s Oil on canvas

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50 x 40 in.


#3 Clouds, c. 1960s

Oil on canvas

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49 x 40 in.


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Untitled (Black/Yellow Abstract), c.1960s Oil on canvas

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49 x 64 in.


Untitled, c. 1960s Acrylic and gouache on paper

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27.5 x 39.25 in.


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Untitled, c. 1960s Acrylic and gouache on paper

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39.5 x 27.5 in.


Untitled, 1962 Acrylic and gouache on paper

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28 x 39 in.


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Untitled (Birds), 1965 Ink on handmade Japanese paper

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20 x 14 in.


Untitled, c. 1950-1960s Oil on plywood board

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16 x 12 in.


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Untitled (Black & White Leaves), 1970 Ink on paper

25.63 x 19.25 in.

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Study for Westgate, 1971 Oil on canvas

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47 x 31 in.


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Untitled (Scroll #06), c. 1970s Ink on Japanese paper mounted on muslin

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73 x 36.4 in.


Untitled, c. 1960-1970s Acrylic or gouache on paper

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36 x 24 in.


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Untitled, c. 1960-1970s Acrylic on fiber paper

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24 x 36 in.


Untitled, c. 1950-1960s Gouache on paper

17.88 x 23.38 in.

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LOUIS RIBAK b. 1902, Grodono, Lithuania (now Belarus) d. 1979, Taos, New Mexico

L

LOUIS RIBAK was born in the Grodono province, formerly Lithuania, and

immigrated to New York when he was ten years old. Ribak studied at the Art Students League under John Sloan, who not only influenced his artistic style but also provided the young artist with exposure to leftist ideologies. In 1942

he married the painter Beatrice Mandelman. That same year, Ribak was drafted into the army, but was released two years later due to persistent asthma. Soon after, Ribak and Mandelman moved to Taos, New Mexico in hopes of finding a more suitable climate for Ribak’s health.

The couple would remain in Taos for the rest of their lives. The young couple soon became the center of a group of artists known as the Taos Moderns, which included Emil Bisttram, Edward Corbett, Agnes Martin, Oli Sihvonen, and Clay Spohn. Mandelman and Ribak opened the Taos Valley Art School, using the income they made from teaching classes to support their art making. In the late 1940s, while his wife was studying in Paris, Ribak purchased a sprawling adobe house for himself and Mandelman. They created an exhibition space in their living room, which they called "Gallery Ribak." The couple organized mini-exhibitions there, including a three-person show for themselves and their friend Agnes Martin in 1955. The captivating landscape and diverse cultures of the region helped transform Ribak’s style from New York-inspired Social Realism towards Abstraction. In 1934, Ribak represented the United States at the Venice Biennale. During his lifetime, he exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Jewish Museum, New York, on multiple occasions. Today, his works are included in public collections across the United States, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Jewish Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Rosenberg & Co. represents the estate of the artist. Photographer unknown, 1965 Courtesy of The Beatrice Mandelman-Louis Ribak Collection, Special Collections and Center for Southwest Research

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SELECTED EXHIBITIONS

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2014

Beatrice Mandelman and Louis Ribak, Addison Rowe Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

2014

Gesture Then and Now: The Legacy of Abstract Expressionism, David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

2015

The Many Faces of Modernism, Addison Rowe Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

2015

Clouds Got in the Way: Louis Ribak Scrolls, The Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, New Mexico

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Society of Independent Artists

1930

Contemporary American Art Annual Exhibit, Whitney Museum, New York

1932

An American Group Inc., Barbizon Plaza Hotel, New York

1934

Venice Biennale

1937

Waterfront Art Show, New School for Social Research, New York

2016

Modern Art in Taos – The Second Chapter, 203 Fine Art, Taos, New Mexico

1938

A.C.A. Gallery, New York

2018

1939

World’s Fair New York and Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco

Mandelman & Ribak, Modern West Fine Art, Salt Lake City, Utah

1941

A.C.A. Gallery, New York

1944

This Is Our War, Artists League of American, Wildenstein & Company, New York

1946

A.C.A. Gallery, New York

Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL

1946

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual

Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY

1947

Corcoran Gallery Biennial, Washington, D.C.

Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH

1950

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, CO

1953

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX

1957

Southwestern Artists Annual, Museum of New Mexico Art Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Paso Museum, El Paso, TX

1958

Recent Paintings by Louis Ribak, Nye Galleries

1959

Gallery Ribak, Taos, New Mexico

1963

Aegean Series, Annual Invitational Exhibit, Highlands University, New Mexico

1973

Modern Painting in Taos, the ‘40’s and ‘50’s – A Selection, Stables Gallery, Taos, New Mexico

1975

Ribak: Louis Ribak Retrospective, Santa Fe Museum of Fine Arts and Museum of New Mexico

1983

Louis Ribak Retrospective, Linda Durham Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

1987

Louis Ribak, Zaplin-Lambert Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

2000

Ben Messick and Louis Ribak Retrospective, Cline Fine Art, New Mexico

2010

Mandelman and Ribak in Taos, The Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, New Mexico

SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, AZ

Harwood Museum of the University of New Mexico, Taos, NM The Jewish Museum, New York, NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY Museum of Art at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, NM Newark Museum, Newark, NJ Roswell Museum and Art Center, Rosewell, NM Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ Watercolor USA Collection, Springfield Art Museum, MO Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY

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SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ellis, Robert. Louis Ribak: The Late Drawings. The Harwood Foundation Museum of the University of New Mexico: Taos, New Mexico, 1992. Mandelman & Ribak in Taos. The Harwood Museum of Art of the University of New Mexico: Taos, New Mexico, 2010. Rand, Harry. Louis Ribak: The Late Paintings. Roswell Museum and Art Center: Roswell, New Mexico, 1984. Strel, Donald. Ribak: Louis Ribak Retrospective. Museum of New Mexico: Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1975. Witt, David L. Modernists in Taos: From Dasburg to Martin. Red Crane Books: 2002. Witt, David L. Taos Moderns: Art of the New. Red Crane Books: 1992.

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Rosenberg & Co. ©2018


Yellow Experiment, c. 1950-1960s Oil on canvas 50 x 40 in.


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