New York

Seymour Fogel

Graham Modern

This retrospective covering five decades in Seymour Fogel’s career revealed the artist’s grand passion for self-expression. Born in New York City in 1911, Fogel shared in the searching spirit of his generation. His progressive bent appeared early when, in 1933, he worked as an apprentice to Diego Rivera on the latter’s Rockefeller Center murals. His portrait of Frida Kahlo from this period, together with his drawings for murals, show Fogel’s mastery of the monumental style of realism popular in the ’30s and early ’40s. In a number of respects, the abstract vocabulary that Fogel developed in the mid-’40s had its origins in the figurative work he did.

In the painting Abstraction, 1946, the geometric elements making up this intricately balanced composition seem the reductive quotient of the precisely contoured limbs and sharply modeled torsos of the figures that had occupied him earlier. Conclave, 1950, a large oil panel with a complex allover structure featuring skeinlike arrangements of faceted planes, was indicative of the self-involved path the artist’s work began to take. In the ’50s, Fogel continued to work on murals. Sketch for Mural Commission, 1953, done in preparation for a commission for the American National Bank in Austin, Texas, showed the artist intensifying the impact of forms by condensing them even further.

In the ’60s, Fogel shook up his own abstract vocabulary and began to employ new materials and techniques. In Untitled, 1965, the largest of a remarkable group of mirrored glass sculptures shown here, the tall, slender concave structure is a stable form whose surface appears to be in the process of being pulled apart by the agitated networks of lines incised on it. In his small tabletop sculptures, Fogel managed to imbue his compositions with a spiritual quality that ran counter to the strong formalist bias of the time. He did so by inviting reflections upon the enduring qualities of such forms, exploring, in particular, the inherent balance of the cube.

In the acrylic and sand paintings of the ’70s and the painted-wood constructions he did in the few years before his death in 1984, Fogel tried his hand at the spare language of colored bars and lines of force often associated with the early 20th-century constructivists. In paintings such as Untitled, 1977, and reliefs such as Ariel Pyro-Technics, 1980, Fogel creates critical junctures at the meeting points of two intersecting elements. These taut compositions, with their acute suggestions of movement, are both dynamic and stimulating. Judging from the power of this show and the range of work on display, Fogel is likely to benefit from the revisionist appraisal so much 20th-century American art is undergoing.

Ronny Cohen