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Ben Wilson: From Social Realism to Abstraction
Montclair State University’s George Segal Gallery presents career-spanning exhibition
MONTCLAIR, N.J., AUGUST 30, 2017 – Ben Wilson: From Social Realism to Abstraction at Montclair State University’s George Segal Gallery will present a core group of works selected from those generously gifted to the university by the Ben and Evelyn Wilson Foundation. This career-spanning exhibition brings together several bodies of work that illustrate Wilson’s progression from politically engaged Social Realism to layered, geometric abstraction. The exhibit will be on display at the George Segal Gallery from September 6 through November 4, 2017.
Wilson (1913-2001) began his career as a WPA artist in New York City in the 1930s and 40s with works that reflected upon the violence in Europe. His Cubist-inflected early pictures grew into a mature body of paintings that adapted Surrealist elements. Wilson’s figures convey the sense of suffering and anxiety that infused the politics of the time, a reality that the artist felt needed to be shared with a wide audience.
In the 1950s these abstracted figures morphed into a more symbolic, expressive style that nevertheless retained a suggestion of figuration. Over the next decade, like many advanced American artists of the period, Wilson moved away from the figure entirely and into a layered geometric abstraction that featured energetic line and vibrant color. These paintings represent Wilson’s mature production, and in them he embraced the freedom of a fully developed personal aesthetic.
Throughout his life, Wilson dedicated himself to education and to sharing his art with the community. First in New York and then in New Jersey, Wilson sought to disseminate his ideas through exhibitions and relationships with educational institutions, libraries, and Jewish community groups. This gift in 2012 of both artwork and archival materials to Montclair State University furthers the artist’s wishes to connect his art to the local public.
“Wilson began as a card-carrying Social Realist with an axe to grind,” notes exhibition curator Jason Rosenfeld, Ph.D., “came to maturity during the height of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and ended as an American original, pursuing a unique kind of rigorous and emphatically painted abstraction.”
Ben Wilson: From Social Realism to Abstraction is curated by Jason Rosenfeld, Ph.D., Distinguished Chair and Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, author of John Everett Millais (Phaidon, 2012), co-curator of River Crossings at Olana and Cedar Grove in Hudson and Catskill, New York (2015), Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde at Tate Britain, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Pushkin (2012-14), and John Everett Millais at Tate Britain and the Van Gogh Museum (2007-2008). He has also published on Marcel Dzama, Stephen Hannock, and Bill Scott, and is a Senior Writer and Editor-at-Large at The Brooklyn Rail. A fully illustrated catalogue with an essay on the artist by Dr. Rosenfeld will be available at the time of the exhibition.
This program is made possible in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and with the generous support of the McMullen Family Foundation.
The George Segal Gallery is fully ADA compliant.
Upon request, information will be made available in alternative formats such as large print. Accommodations will be provided to all individuals with disabilities in order to participate in George Segal Gallery services, programs, and activities.