The Angelo Ippolito exhibit at the Springfield Museum of Art
By Jud Yalkut
The early 50s through the mid-60s in New York was a vibrant time of changes in American art as Abstract Expressionism reached its peak of influence before branching into the myriad forms, which refined themselves into Pop Art and Minimalism. Out of this fervid activity, some artists ascended to the imprimatur of the 57th Street galleries and international fame, while other equally significant artists found their artistic community in a small section of downtown New York centered around East 10th Street in a hotbed of historically important artist-run low rent spaces.
Among the significant art spaces in that community were the March Gallery, the Hansa Gallery, the Phoenix Gallery, the Brata Gallery and others including the first artist-run space the Tanager Gallery at 90 East 10th Street (1952-1962) next door to the home of Willem de Kooning. Founded by Charles Cajori, Lois Dodd, William King, Fred Mitchell and Angelo Ippolito, the Tanager was later joined by others like American Realists Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein, Lester Johnson and Pop artist Tom Wesselmann.
Lawrence Campbell in “Art in America” (1983) recounted that: “One day in early 1952 Angelo Ippolito and Fred Mitchell were walking along East 4th Street near Cooper Union, and noticed that the tenant at No. 53, a barber, had moved out.” The group decided to split the monthly rent of $59 for that initial space and “a small pane of orange-red glass reminded Mitchell of a scarlet Tanager – hence the gallery’s name.”
The range of temperaments of this community of artists spanned from figurative to the utterly abstract, and one of the leaders of the abstract tendency was Ippolito, whose work was later accepted and collected by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Another museum that has a number of Ippolito works in its collection is the Springfield Museum of Art in Ohio, occasioned by the artist’s brief residence in Urbana.
The exhibition “Angelo Ippolito: A Lifetime of Painting” runs through March 13, which covers works from 1955 into the 1990s, is curated by his son Jon Ippolito, a media curator at the Guggenheim Museum. An émigré from Italy at the age of nine, Ippolito was later dubbed “Mr. 10th Street” who wore suits to flea markets, and listened to both John Cage and Johnny Cash. A high school dropout, he became a professor emeritus of the State University of Binghamton, New York.
Cubism influenced Ippolito’s early work, but eased by his progressively spontaneous brushstrokes, his early abstractions drew from natural landscapes with a profoundly atmospheric air of color which gradually became his trademark. The earliest work in the show is the small mixed media “Collage #9” (1955) which populated a white and blue plane with sketchy personages spiked by bands of color. Always maintaining his New York studio, Ippolito moved around the country with his family as a visiting artist and each location had a profound effect on his depictions of space and light.
Three semesters as a resident artist at the University of California in 1961 resulted in a series of mixed media collages aptly titled “BERKELEY” and two pieces, one from the Springfield collection, are in the show. In these smaller works, he collaged international newspapers, old magazines and mail order catalogues transformed by bold strokes of paint into dynamic compositions. New Midwestern locations brought back his earlier saturated color sense and the motif of farms appeared with the small barn-reliefed surface of “Farm” (1983) and the mural-size “Farm” (1966) with its painting-within-paintings and farms and silos, from the museum’s collection. A move to Detroit in 1969 inspired Ippolito to execute pieces in automobile lacquer with smooth glossy surfaces and defined abstract simplifications like “Blue on Blue” and “Untitled (Green),” both from the collection.
From the 1970s we are treated to open spaced abstract landscapes like the woodsy “October II” (1979) and the “Landscape with Dark Sky” (1977) from the collection. Cubist forms loosen up in a series of Ippolito’s “still lifes” like the emblematic table arrangement of “May Still Life” (1979), the earlier “Cubist Still Life” (1970) with its arches and scrolled string instrument, and the low-key floral arrangement within angles of the “Still Life with Cubist Glass” (1979).
Ippolito continued to open up the picture plane in his oil on linen 1980s works with the soft diffusions of color and suggestive forms of “Paesaggio” (1980), the floating irregular shapes of “One June Morning” (1988) in a blue/lavender mist, the opposing edges of shapes hanging on within the blue field of “Small Painting” (1982), and the floating orange-on-orange diffusions suspended in “Orange” (1982), all pieces which exemplify Ippolito’s belief in “color as light.”
The gorgeous light-filled spacious arc of the museum’s special exhibition is made even more vibrant at one end by the museum’s large diptych “Argopoli” (1993) with its effusive golden emanations. Not to be missed are the four small collages from “The Aegean Series” (1983) including the translucent cut paper with drawing overlays of “Samos #19” and the almost-Klee-like iconography of “Samos #28.” The final wall is devoted to pieces from Ippolito’s “Regatta Series” (1984-89) in which the watery color planes suggest abstract but recognizable elements like pennants, sails and boats, and black wave forms blend into blue ground in “Land’s End” (1986), with the full blast of wind on sails being felt in the horizontal diptych “Windward” (1987).
The Springfield Museum of Art is located at 107 Cliff Park Road. Museum hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; and 12:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m., Sundays (free admission). Admission at other times is $5 for non-members. Call (937) 325-4673 or visit www.springfieldart.museum.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jud Yalkut at JudYalkut@daytoncitypaper.com.