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Irving Norman (1906-1989)


Irving Norman: War & Peace

Published by Michael Rosenfeld Gallery (2014), this fully illustrated, 96 page exhibition catalogue contains 8 color plates and 37 painting detail images. Featuring an introduction by Scott A. Shields, Associate Director and Chief Curator at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California, and a personal recollection of Irving Norman by musician Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills & Nash), a long-time admirer of Norman’s work. Softcover. 

 

Exhibitions


New & Noteworthy

American Fine Art Magazine, January/February 2018

by Joshua Rose

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The Earth and Age Magazine, February 2015

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Artsy Editorial, September 2014

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American Fine Art Magazine

September/October 2014

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MRG PRESS RELEASE

Irving Norman: War & Peace, Monumental Paintings, 1969-1986

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The Brooklyn Rail, November 2008

by Valery Oisteanu

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MRG PRESS RELEASE

Irving Norman

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Prints & Publications


Artist Information

“I have always believed in the human capacity to persevere and overcome the most incredible circumstances.”[1]

Known for his detailed paintings protesting inhumanity, Irving Norman was born Irving Noachowitz in 1906 in Vilna, which at the time was under Russia’s control. In 1923, he emigrated to the United States, settling on New York’s Lower East Side, where he trained as a barber, and then moving to Laguna Beach, California, where he opened his own barber shop in 1934. In 1938, Norman joined the Abraham Lincoln battalion of the International Brigade to help defend the Spanish Republic from the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. After the war, Norman returned to California transformed by his experience. Searching for a way to express the atrocities he witnessed in Spain, Norman turned to art.  He moved to San Francisco in 1940 and enrolled in classes at the California School of Fine Arts, where he excelled. By 1942, Norman had a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art. In 1946, he went to New York City and studied with Reginald Marsh and Robert Beverley Hale at the Art Students League before traveling to Mexico to see the murals of Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. In the late 1940s, Norman returned to the San Francisco Bay Area.

The muralists had a profound influence on Norman in spirit and style. Working extensively in watercolor, he expanded the medium’s size to monumental proportions. But while he painted on a grand scale, he saw in human terms. In massive works teeming with detail, populated by swarming, anonymous, often nude, clone-like figures, Norman railed against injustice and captured the chaotic alienation of modernity. His forms, generic signifiers of humanness, are constricted by small urban spaces, caught in the crunch of rush hour, decimated by the pain of poverty, destroyed by the horror of war, and trapped by the excesses of global capitalism. Such themes reveal Norman’s perception of the society in which he lived and were animated by dynamic, off-kilter compositions, jewel-like colors, and piercing wit. Norman believed that by bearing witness to cruelty and oppression in his paintings, he might move his viewers to consider their own role in systems of power. In light of that aspiration, he intended his paintings to be public art, placed in institutions accessible to all. He eschewed commercial viability and avoided private patronage.

Norman’s success as a painter during his lifetime seems modest when compared to the celebrity of his abstractionist contemporaries. In the 1950s, his reputation began to rise, despite the decade’s opening with his watercolor Big City being banned from an exhibition at the De Young Museum in San Francisco on the grounds of obscenity. In the remainder of the decade, Norman’s work was included in several major exhibitions, including a 1953 show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture Biennial at the University of Illinois, Urbana (1957). In 1964, his drawing War and Peace was shown as part of the San Francisco Art Association exhibition at the city’s Art Institute, where it received considerable attention. In the 1970s and 1980s, Norman was the subject of several solo exhibitions at commercial and university art galleries, but widespread success eluded him.

During decades overshadowed by pure abstraction, Norman focused on carefully detailed representational imagery and strong social messages. But his choice to buck dominant artistic trends only partially accounts for the fact that his work today remains marginalized in art historical canons. Much of his earlier obscurity also stemmed from twenty years of surveillance by the FBI. Norman’s youthful political affiliations marked him as a target for McCarthyist attacks on left-leaning intellectuals. In the decades following World War II, Norman was blacklisted, and in 1959, he and his wife “sought the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully sued the FBI to stop overt interrogations and harassment of the couple. . . . while many visiting curators and museum directors expressed an interest in buying and exhibiting his art, precious few did (or felt they could) until the 1970s. “[2]

However chilling the effect of such government scrutiny upon his life, Norman’s paintings stand as a testimony to his talent, determination, and ultimate belief in humanity. While often horrific and terrifying, Norman’s colossal works contain a deeper message, and that is one of hope. A resurgent interest in Norman’s work has emerged in the last decades with several solo shows including a 1996 solo exhibition at the De Young, The Measure of All Things, and the traveling exhibition Dark Metropolis: Irving Norman’s Social Surrealism (2007-2008). In 2008, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery became the exclusive representative of the Estate of Irving Norman and presented its first solo exhibition for the artist. Most recently, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery presented Irving Norman: War and Peace, Monumental Paintings, 1969-1986 (September 6 – October 25, 2014).

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, is the exclusive representative of the Estate of Irving Norman.


[1] Irving Norman in a letter dated January 30, 1989.

[2] Valery Oisteanu, “Irving Norman,” The Brooklyn Rail, November 2008. http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/11/artseen/irving-norman (accessed October 2012).

 

1940 
California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA
(studied with William Gaw and Spencer Macky) 

1942 
California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA 

1946 
The Art Students League, New York, NY
(studied with Reginald Marsh and R.B. Hale)

SELECTED MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

Achenbach Collection, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, WI
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA
di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
Long Island University, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn, NY
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Chicago, IL
M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum Collection, Utah State University, Logan, UT
Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA
San Francisco Art Commission, City of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA
Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum of Lithuania, Vilnius, Lithuania

1942 
Irving Norman Drawings, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA

1945 
Selected Drawings and Paintings by Irving Norman, Tom Mooney Gallery, California Labor School, San Francisco, CA

1951 
Paintings by Irving Norman, Lucien Labaudt Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1956 
Irving Norman, Oils – Watercolors, and Drawings, Lucien Labaudt Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1959 
Irving Norman: An Exhibition of Early and Recent Paintings and Drawings, Designer’s Gallery, San  Francisco, CA

1970 
The Wrathful World of Irving Norman, Long Island University, the Library of the Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn, NY

1973 
Irving Norman: Paintings and Drawings. San Francisco Art Commission, Capricorn Asunder Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1974 
Irving Norman: Paintings and Drawings, Union Art Gallery, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA

1975 
Irving Norman, Paintings, Drawing, and Watercolors, Phoenix Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1976 
Irving Norman: Recent Paintings, Phoenix Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1978 
Irving Norman, Recent Paintings, Simon Lowinsky Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1980 
Irving Norman: Award of Honor Exhibition, San Francisco Art Commission, Capricorn Asunder     Gallery,  San Francisco, CA

1981 
Simon Lowinsky Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1982 
Euphrat Gallery, De Anza College, Cupertino, CA

1986 
Irving Norman: The Human Condition – Paintings 1965-1985, Alternative Museum, New York, NY

1988  
Irving Norman, Jan Holloway Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Irving Norman: The Human Condition, Collins Gallery, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, San Francisco, CA

1990 
Irving Norman (1906-1989), Union Art Gallery, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA

1996 
Irving Norman: Social Surrealist, Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, Porter College, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA
The Measure of All Things: Paintings by Irving Norman, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA
Irving Norman: Selected Early Drawings, 1941-1955, Jan Holloway Fine Art, San Francisco, CA

2002 
On Being Human: The Social Surrealist Paintings of Irving Norman, Pete and Susan Barrett Art     Gallery, Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, Madison Campus, Santa Monica, CA

2006 
Dark Metropolis, Irving Norman’s Social Surrealism, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA;     Pasadena Museum of California Art, Pasadena, CA; Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, UT; The Katzen Arts Center, American University, Washington, DC

2008 
Irving Norman, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

2014
Irving Norman: War & Peace, Monumental Paintings, 1969-1986, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

1945 
Ninth Annual Drawing and Print Exhibition, San Francisco Art Association, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA

1948
Thirteenth Annual Watercolor Exhibition, San Francisco Art Association, Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA

1950 
San Francisco Art Association Annual Exhibition, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Art Museum, San Francisco, CA

1952 
American Water Colors, Drawings, and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

1956 
San Francisco Art Association Annual Exhibition, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA

1957 
Contemporary American Painting and Sculpture, University of Illinois, College of Fine and Applied Art, Urbana, IL

1959 
San Francisco Art Association Exhibition, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA

1960 
Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Art Association, Catalogue of the Art Bank of the SFAA, San Francisco, CA
Survey of Watercolors & Drawings, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA

1964 
Drawings from San Francisco, Art Bank, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA

1965 
San Francisco Art Association Exhibition of Drawings, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, CA

1967 
Paintings from the San Francisco Bay Area, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY

1976   
Borders, The Academy, Battleship and Interrelationships, Phoenix Gallery, San Francisco, CA

1983 
Social Statements: our time in painting and sculpture, Civic Arts Gallery, Walnut Creek, CA

1984 
The Human Condition: The Third Biennial Exhibition, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San    Francisco, CA
Ceci N’est Pas Le Surrealisme: California Idioms of Surrealism, Fisher Gallery, University of Southern   California, Los Angeles, CA
Contemporary Surrealism: Classical, Visionary and Social, Euphrat Gallery, De Anza College,     Cupertino, CA
Religion: 1984, Bruce Velick Gallery, San Francisco, CA
San Francisco Bay Area Painting, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE

1985 
Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Signing of the United Nations Charter, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
100 Vows of the Sun, Surrealist Sculpture, Painting and Poetry, Southern Exposure Gallery at Project    Artaud, San Francisco, CA
Contemporary Art: Contemporary Issues, Southern Exposure Gallery at Project Artaud, San Francisco, CA

1986
South Africa State of Emergency: A Mixed Media Exhibition, Galleria de la Raza/Studio 24, San  Francisco, CA
Bay Area Collects, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA

1987 
The Surreal Ecstasy of Woman, Colorbox, San Francisco, CA
Hell of a Time (1954), exhibited at the Art Department’s Gallery, Permanent Gallery, Oakland Museum    of California, Oakland, CA

1989 
Masters of Surrealism, Prieto Gallery, Mills College, Oakland, CA

1990 
Art & the Law, Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, MN

1994 
Rene di Rosa: Works from a California Collection, Flora Lamson Hewlett Library, Graduate     Theological Union, Berkeley, CA

1995 
Facing Eden: 100 Years of Landscape Art in the Bay Area, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco,  M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA

1998 
Works on Display from the Permanent Collection, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas,     Lawrence, KS

2001 
The Art of War and Peace, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

2003 
At Work: The Art of California Labor, California Historical Society, San Francisco, CA; San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA

2004 
Selections, The San Jose Museum of Art Permanent Collection, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA

2005 
Local Legend: 6 Eminent San Mateo County Artists, Peninsula Museum of Art, Belmont, CA
Marks of Distinction: Two Hundred Years of American Drawings and Watercolors from the Hood     Museum of Art, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
The Art of Engagement, Visual Politics in California and Beyond, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose,    CA
Ghosts of Little Boy, Artists for Peace, Part II, National Japanese American Historical Society, San Francisco, CA

2007 
Prophecy: Healing Time, Artists & Communities Confront Current Global Crisis, SomArts, San Francisco, CA
Works on Display from the Permanent Collection, 20/21 Gallery, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS

2008
Pacific Light: California Watercolor Refracted, 1907-2008, San Francisco State University Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Hand & Eye: Drawing from the Permanent Collections, Des Moines Art Center, Print Gallery, Des Moines, IA
Recent Acquisitions, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI

2010
Unconscious Unbound: Surrealism in America, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

2011
Otherworldliness, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

2012
INsite/INchelsea: The Inaugural Exhibition, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

2013
Classless Society, The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY

2014
Solitary Soul, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

2017
Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany
Figuratively Speaking, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

2018
Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA

1945 
Purchase Award: Laissez Faire Industrialism, San Francisco Art Association, San Francisco, CA

1945-46 
Grant awarded from Albert Bender Memorial Fund, San Francisco Art Association, San Francisco, CA

1980 
Award of Merit, San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco, CA