UNM Displays Gottlieb’s Final 9 Months of Work

UNM Displays Gottlieb’s Final 9 Months of Work

Final Works Of Abstract-Expressionist Icon On Display Until March 13

Stroke is a word with many connotations.

Brush stroke.

Stroke of genius.


Hemorrhagic stroke.

In the UNM Art Museum’s new exhibit on Adolph Gottlieb, all of them are on display.

Gottlieb was one of the best-known paragons of the abstract-expressionist movement, working for more than 50 years to change the landscape of modern art.

His paintings are highly recognizable, given his signature penchant for circles, symbols, and empty space, but, in their own time, were bold explorations into how color and distance can affect and describe people on a deep, unspeakable level.

In 1970, Gottlieb suffered a stroke that left him in a wheelchair and paralyzed on his left side. As an accomplished and financially successful painter, he could have retired then and rested on his laurels.

But, as is often the case with artists, the idea of retirement was impossible. How can one retire from a lifetime passion?

With the help of his wife, Esther, he continued to paint until his death in 1974, creating works that arguably possess the greatest culmination of his talent and curiosity.

These paintings, monumental in size, distinguish an artist in a very turbulent time, from the 1920s to the ‘70s, who sought to simplify and condense all of memory, feeling and identity into color and space, in an attempt to understand the human condition better.

One can see his ultimate thesis in his last paintings, abstract as they may seem. Like messages to an alien race, they speak of ourselves in a way language could only obfuscate. As playful as a child’s drawings, yet as serious as a man’s final words, they defy cursory explanation and evoke ideas of nascent spirituality.

These final works can be seen in The Painter’s Hand: The Monotypes of Adolph Gottlieb at the UNM Art Museum.

All of the paintings were created in the last nine months of Gottlieb’s life, and are provided by the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation.

The Foundation is a star in its own right, reflecting the values of a man who understood how much luck was involved in becoming an international success, and how many artists of great caliber get overlooked.

In life, Adolph and Esther Gottlieb often gave money to artists in dire need, and in his will, he instructed that a foundation be created to benefit “mature, creative sculptors and painters” who may need a helping hand.

There is an Individual Support Grant available for artists with 20 years of experience but little money to show for it, and an Emergency Grant for artists with 10 years of experience who have undergone an unforeseen catastrophic event such as fire, flood, or medical emergency.

Admission to the Gottlieb exhibit, as with all exhibits at the UNM Art Museum, is free and runs through March 13.

For more information on the exhibit, visit unmartmuseum.org. For more information on the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, visit gottliebfoundation.org

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Joseph Hillman is a freelance arts journalist.

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Dennis Domrzalski is news editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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