NORMAN BLUHMAmerican 1921 - 1999

Provenance:
Estate of the artist

NORMAN BLUHMAmerican 1921 - 1999

One of the most innovative and prolific artists associated with Abstract Expressionism, Bluhm’s work has fallen into relative obscurity over the past few decades. One major reason is his idiosyncratic and multifaceted style, which has made his work difficult to categorise. In a career spanning six decades, Bluhm essentially produced four bodies of work, from his Surrealist-inspired figurative paintings of the 1940s to his large-scale, almost diagrammatic paintings of the 1990s. His most important and creative period is considered to be from 1959 to 1963, when he embraced an open and gestural style that resonated with the New York School, but remained resolutely his own. It was also at this time that Bluhm started showing at Leo Castelli Gallery, launching his career in earnest. Realised in 1961, the present work’s energetic brushstrokes, visceral splatters and luminous expanses of white exemplify this coveted period in Bluhm’s work.

At the age of 16 Bluhm became Mies van der Rohe’s youngest student at the Armour Institute of Technology, where he studied Bauhaus architecture. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, at the age of 20 he enlisted in the army as a bomber pilot, flying in 44 missions until he was sent home severely wounded. WWII profoundly affected Bluhm, as it did many artists of his generation. He did not return to his architectural training and instead went to study art in Paris, where he met figures such as Alberto Giacometti and Jean Cocteau and American expats such as Sam Francis. Bluhm returned to the United States in 1956, where he devoted himself to painting, frequently spending time at the Cedar Tavern with artists who were establishing the New York School.

Given his originality and prominent position amongst the second generation of Abstract Expressionist painters, Bluhm’s paintings are still a relative bargain. His works from the late 1950s and early 1960s command the highest prices at auction; indeed his top prices of $1.14m and $722,000 were achieved by two works from 1959 and the fourteen prices that follow were for works painted before 1964.

Bluhm’s work can be found in numerous major public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Harvard University Art Museums, Cleveland Museum of Art, Addison Gallery of American Art and Ball State Museum of Art in Indiana.