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Alexander O. Levy: American Artist, Art Deco Painter

November 14, 2014 - March 29, 2015


The Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State is presenting Alexander O. Levy: American Artist, Art Deco Painter on view November 14, 2014 through March 29, 2015. An installation of more than 75 paintings by Levy ( b. 1881 Bonn, Germany; d. 1947, Buffalo, NY), this is the largest exhibition of Levy's work, drawing from more than 27 private and public collections with works presented publicly for the first time. He was an Art Deco Master renowned for dark, mysterious, moody classical allegories, portraits, landscapes and still-lifes. (right: Alexander O. Levy (1881-1947), The Rhumba Dancer, 1934; oil on canvas, 40 x 40 inches; Collection of Dr. Michael Wood)

"Historic exhibitions are products of a specific time and place, reflections of culture and society at any given point in history. To understand where we are today we need to constantly look backwards," explains Scott Propeack, associate director, exhibitions and collections. "Levy's iconic work represented not only an identity of a city, but of a nation at a tumultuous time. He helps us explore complex, contemporary questions in this community about the evolution of art -- the shift from the traditional representation of art to exploratory abstraction and how art deco can be seen through a new lens."

A painter, illustrator, printmaker and designer, Levy was born in 1881 in Bonn, Germany. His parents immigrated to the United States, moving to Cincinnati in 1884. Levy studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy with Frank Duveneck, followed by studies in at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art under the respected painters, educators and art philosophers William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. Levy also studied with Ossip Linde, whose landscape style was influential. His work shows the influence of Henri's moody, dark treatment of the new, American urban experience: the common man, labor, industry, poverty. Under Henri's influence, the Ashcan School of American art (also known as The Eight and The Black Gang) developed, including John Sloan, Everett Shinn, George Bellows, George Luks, William Glackens and Maurice Prendergast.

Levy moved to Buffalo, N.Y., in 1909 to become art director for the Matthews-Northrup Company. His illustrative work appeared in popular magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Saint Nicholas Magazine and The Century. He worked as an art director at the Larkin Soap Company for 15 years and painted murals in the Larkin Administration Building as well as for the old Park Lane restaurant, the Buffalo Catholic Union & Times and Gulf Oil headquarters. Levy also designed the seal for the Chamber of Commerce, and was a president of the Buffalo Society of Artists, one of the oldest continually operating arts organization in the country, from 1933-1936.

Levy was one of the few American artists who worked in the Art Deco fashion. "Levy's color ranged widely from a dark limited color scheme to daring gauche hues,'" notes Anthony Bannon, Burchfield Penney Executive Director. "Levy drew his forms from Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Mannerism and the picturesque elements of The Ashcan School. Above all, the Levy paintings are suffused with a love of life. No two are the same, and it is rare that any two people, upon viewing a group of Levy, can agree on which they prefer."

Levy's subjects derive from Buffalo and the Orient, from the decadent and the wholesome, landscape and still life, portrait and fantasy. Levy's work can have the muscular angularity of Rockwell Kent or the sweetness of Edouard Manet in late career.

"His compositions play on the relationships among independent entities in creating a complex whole, rather than a single thought," said Scott Propeack, associate director, chief curator who co-organized the presentation with Albert B. Michaels, Ph.D., SUNY at Buffalo State history professor and Burchfield Penney associate curator. "Although set in a field of an almost nouveau dreamy space, his figures are strong and separate. Using a thick outline, the 'object' in his work is reliant on juxtapositions. Not just in figural work, this composition extends to his landscapes."

Through the attention given to Levy by historian Albie Michaels, Dana Tillou Fine Arts discovered the works of Alexander O. Levy when the artist's son and grandson provided work for an exhibition in 1982. A steward of Levy's work since 1991, the Burchfield Penney's collection has grown tremendously and over the past 12 years 24 have been fully restored.

The exhibition is sponsored by an anonymous donor with additional generous conservation support of Carol and John Kociela, Grace Meibohm, Grant Paulsen and Jeffrey Thier, and Kevin Gleason and Julia Bogacki at ConservArt LLC.

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