Aesthetic Realism Foundation

The Terrain Gallery, New York, NY



Terrain Gallery 45th Anniversary Exhibition

By Alma Vincent


The Terrain Gallery is celebrating its 45th anniversary with an exhibition of work by over forty printmakers, photographers, and painters, representing the hundreds of artists who have shown there in these four and a half decades. The exhibition will run through August 2000 at the gallery, which is part of the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation, 141 Greene Street off West Houston in Manhattan's SoHo district. (left: "Voyage West" etching by Chaim Koppelman)

The Terrain Gallery is the first gallery based on a philosophic way of seeing reality itself, including art - Aesthetic Realism. It opened in New York City in 1955, with artist Dorothy Koppelman as director, publishing in its first announcement, the now historic 15 Questions, "Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?" by the great American poet and critic Eli Siegel, founder of Aesthetic Realism. In continuous exhibitions of contemporary art, as well as notable discussions on the art of the world, the criterion for beauty presented in these questions has been shown to be true about art of every style, time, and place. This statement by Mr. Siegel has appeared on every exhibition announcement: "In reality opposites are one; art shows this." (right: "Block Party" photograph by Nancy Starrels)

Works on the gallery walls were presented in an entirely new way: a Larry Rivers double portrait, for instance, could be next to a reproduction of a Flemish portrait. A relation of opposites across the centuries was seen and experienced by the viewer in an unforgettable manner. A photograph was shown near a three-dimensional wall piece - one saw depth and surface, "bumps and hollows," as Rodin put it, enhancing one another in these two different art forms. The abstract qualities of a George Tooker and the meaning for life itself of an Ad Reinhardt were shown. And the democracy of the Terrain was evident in its showing side by side of well-known and "emerging" artists. Value, sincerity, honesty were, and are what is looked for.

The Terrain Gallery changed how art was seen and talked about. For example, "Definition Is Wonder" of 1961, showed work by 36 of America's most respected printmakers. In the catalogue were two poems by Eli Siegel, including "The Print and the Opposites" with these lines: "Is technique forceful, nonetheless restrained? Does line insist while it is mute? Are there the leaves of surface in a print? Which have the meaning of a root?" (left: Hans Namuth photographic portrait of Jackson Pollock, was part of the 1966 Terrain Gallery exhibition, "All Art Is For Life and Against the War in Vietnam.")

Artists and curators, including Elizabeth Erlanger, Winslow Ames, Robert Conover, Letterio Calapai, A. Hyatt Mayor, Gladys Mock, Doris Seidler, all commented in the exhibition catalogue on the relation of The Siegel Theory of Opposites to the art of the print.

While art critics praised early exhibitions in their reviews, acknowledging the high level of work, there was little or no discussion of the gallery's philosophic basis - often it was left out entirely. The one reviewer to write about the value of the Terrain's point of view was Bennett Schiff, then art critic for a major New York newspaper. On June 16, 1957, reviewing "Rest and Motion," an exhibition of paintings and sculpture, he wrote: "There probably hasn't been a gallery before this like the Terrain, which devotes itself to the integration of art with all of living according to an esthetic principle which is part of an entire, encompassing philosophic theory....Aesthetic Realism: 'The art of liking oneself through seeing the world, art, and oneself as the aesthetic oneness of opposites.'..."

The gallery was organized and launched about three years ago by a group of young, cultivated persons including writers, artists and teachers, all of whom held a fundamental belief in common. This was the validity of the theory of Aesthetic Realism as developed by Eli Siegel, a poet and philosopher whose work has received growing recognition by such people as William Carlos Williams...."It is a building, positive vision."

It is just in recent years that the press boycott of Aesthetic Realism and the Terrain Gallery is at last showing signs of ending. Now, in the Spring of 2000, to celebrate this important anniversary, the Terrain Gallery is mounting a diverse retrospective exhibition, which includes Pop, Op, figurative and abstract paintings and prints--including work by Altman, Blackburn, D'Arcangelo, Fauerbach, Knigin, Koppelman, Krushenick, Lichtenstein, Leiber, Longo, Nama, Namuth, Trieff and Von Wicht.

Also on exhibit are posters and announcements--many containing artists' statements, and poems and essays on art by Eli Siegel, from shows such as Abstract & Concrete (1956), and All Art Is For Life and Against the War in Vietnam (1966). Surface to Begin With: Silkscreen Prints (1967) was one of the first exhibitions to show this now popular print form. There were annual Big & Small miniature exhibitions from 1972-1982; shows on themes such as Couples: Closeness and Clash in Art and Life (1983); and other innovative exhibitions such as Architecture: Matter & Space (1984); and The Value of Objects (1999).

The ongoing 45th anniversary celebration includes art talks every Saturday afternoon at 2:30 pm, free to the public, in the series now in its 16th year titled: "The Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel Shows How Art Answers the Questions of Your Life!"

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/1/11

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