When you visit the Reading Public Museum and wander through the second floor galleries, you spend most of your time moving from work to work along the walls, making observations about the subject matter, application of paint, and style or technique of paintings and other works of art, but did you know that the reverse sides of paintings can tell us lots of information too? Collectors, curators and museum staff spend a lot of time researching and documenting works of art in their collections to establish its history, also known as provenance, and clues that help tell its story, which can sometimes be revealed by simply turning a painting over.
One remarkable case-in-point is a painting by William Baziotes, the renowned Abstract Expressionist, who was part of the movement also known as the New York School of painters. His colleagues and fellow painters included Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko among others, who helped make New York City the new hub of the international art world in the 1940s and 50s.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1912, William Baziotes moved with his family to Reading in 1913 when he was a year old. His parents were Greek immigrants who came to Berks County for business opportunities. The family ran a successful restaurant and bakery in the city. For a time, his father was a partner in the Crystal Restaurant on the 500 block of Penn Street in Reading. Baziotes also worked at J. M. Kase & Company, a stained glass manufacturer in the city from 1931 to 1933.
The artist moved to New York in 1933 on the recommendation of friend and Reading poet Byron Vazakas. He enrolled in classes at the National Academy of Design and absorbed influences of European modernism including Surrealism before adopting his mature abstract style.
Moon Forms, an oil on canvas from 1947, a recent gift of Irv and Lois Cohen, is an extraordinary exploration of color, line and gesture from his mature period, but on the back of the painting, we find evidence of its past. There are no less than 10 old labels on the back of the painting, some of which tell the story of who once owned the painting—or, more accurately, dealers who at one time offered the painting for sale. The painting made its debut in 1947 at the Kootz Gallery in New York City, where it hung among sixteen other paintings by Baziotes. Subsequently, the painting passed through a series of art dealers throughout its history including The New Gallery and the James Goodman Gallery in New York; the Paul Kantor Gallery in Beverly Hills; and B. C. Holland in Chicago. Labels from each of these dealers appear on the back of the Moon Forms canvas.
The reverse of the painting indicates that the painting was lent by Mr. Samuel Kootz of Kootz Gallery to an exhibition, The New Decade: Thirty-Five American Painters and Sculptors (1955-1956) held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which also traveled to the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Art Galleries of the University of California Los Angeles, Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, and the City Art Museum of Saint Louis.
Importantly, Moon Forms was included in the 1959 international exhibition, which traveled to the Museum Fridericianum and Orangerie (Kassel, Germany), and Schloss Bellevue (Berlin). The show was organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City titled documenta II, which included works by 339 artists including Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Adolf Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Paul Klee, Alberto Giacometti, among others. The loan/accession number from that 1959 exhibition appears several times on the back of the canvas.
Moon Forms has an impressive history and RPM is thrilled to have it among its growing collection of modern art.
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