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Benjamin Benno: 1930s American Modernist in Paris

May 4 – June 15, 1991


Press Release

Benjamin Benno was regarded as a child prodigy. In 1912 his formal training began with Robert Henri and George Bellows in New York. He studied at the progressive Ferrer School known for its emphasis on freethinking and association with the anarchist movement. For eight years he traveled throughout the world painting and gaining confidence in his art.

Financed by collectors, Benno moved to Paris in 1926. He briefly returned to New York in 1931 and upon receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship immediately returned to Paris where he remained until 1939. By the early 1930s he had established a reputation as a member of the international avant-garde and exhibited with the most significant European artists including Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Hans Arp, and Fernand Léger. Pablo Picasso sponsored Benno's first one-man show in Paris in 1934.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Benno returned to New York along with many artist exiles. In America, his eccentric nature and experimental paintings were received harshly by critics. Enraged by this reception, Benno became bitter and hostile. Galleries and museums were disturbed by his temperament and Benno’s presence in the art world waned.

Benno spent his last years buying back his works and preparing his papers for posterity. The paintings in this exhibition exemplify a man passionately committed to his art and convinced of his place in history.

This exhibition features major works from the 1930s when Benno was living in Paris and regarded as a distinguished member of the cultural avant-garde.During this time, Benno became acutely aware of the Modernists and reflected various avant-garde movements in his work. The principles of Surrealism, Cubism and Constructivisim influenced Benno, yet his strong personality imbued his art with a distinctive quality.