The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

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JUNE 2022 Issue

Edith Schloss: Blue Italian Skies Above

Installation view, <em>Edith Schloss: Blue Italian Skies Above</em>,  at Alexandre Gallery, April 30 - June 11.
Installation view, Edith Schloss: Blue Italian Skies Above, at Alexandre Gallery, April 30 - June 11.

New York City
Alexandre Gallery
Edith Schloss: Blue Italian Skies Above
April 30 – June 11

What a wonderful time to discover the sly and seductive charm of Edith Schloss’s largely under-the-radar art, writing, and life. All of it is so apt, entertaining, and informative that it’s impossible to decide what should be quoted for insight or fun. For example, the novelist Jane Bowles sets the stage, speaking from the Chelsea loft on 21st Street that Schloss shared with her husband of 13 years photographer Rudy Burkhardt:

I know that everyone here has slept at one time or another with someone or another in this loft. We stared at one another, old lovers new husbands, this one having lived with that, secretly or not, summer or winter, in rain or shine—Bill Elaine, Edwin, Fairfield, Anne and Anne, Jean, Ruth, Pit, Larry, Milton, Alex, tess, Walter, Paul, Fritz, Nell, Ilse, Marisol, Bob, Jimmy, Jane, Joe, Rudy, and me. It was uncanny. It was true. Everyone was there.

The German-born artist, who died in 2011, documented off-handedly her life as a refuge first in New York, in 1942, and then Rome in 1962, in an insightful posthumous memoir Loft Generation: from de Kooning to Twombly Portraits and Sketches 1942–2011.

Schloss also left us with an ebullient body of warm and eccentric paintings created in the 1960s and ’70s on the island of Spezia that were recently on view at Alexandre Gallery’s new fresh-white downtown space. In these, the objects are the characters sharply profiled—the little boats, beach balls, a lone bird, a bowl of fruit, close ups of primary-colored lollypop-like flowers pose head on. The painting Spring Green (1967) poignantly features two Gustonesque figures as objects, one with baby, stretched out flat on the grass.

The memoir—filled with gossip, social history, wit and snarky observations, portraits of objects, artworks, and incidentals of her surroundings—was assembled by her son, filmmaker Jacob Burckhardt, also focuses on the nature of art criticism in the ’60s and ’70s under the sure-handed reign of Tom Hess, then legendary editor of ARTnews, for whom Schloss worked.

“The artists he caught, and also some of the critics he employed, were the true movers of the 1940s and the 1950s,” she wrote, “and the spearhead of all that was to come.” Hess’s “favorite baby” was the magazine’s noted “Paints a Picture” series, focusing on process and practice. “It was Tom’s new concept of art criticism that made ARTnews such a lively magazine. He invented ‘Parallel poetry,’ which was about sheer, clear visual experience—you experienced a work of art and had a feeling about it, and with your words you conveyed a similar feeling. There was no literal description, no clunky analysis.” On the other hand, she notes, “[Tom] ruled ARTnews with an iron will and a wise hand, modifying articles to suit his own ends, as I later found.”

A close friend of Schloss and Burkhardt, the elegant poet and dance critic Edwin Denby told her how to write and choose titles. Just tell what’s in front of you. What’s simplest, he said. In 1950, she, Rudy, and Jacob, who was born in 1948, went to Italy to stay with Denby, and he introduced her to de Kooning, whose colors and shapes were to influence her. It was “the tangy taste of Mediterranean color that cut into your senses, to stay there forever,” she said of de Kooning’s early paintings.

Schloss’s paintings in this outrageously cheerful and eccentric show touched widely on the artist’s times and locales—on her sharp, original, and quirky thoughts, memories, and observations. Everything was grist for her unfussy but playful art.

Her vivid animated still lifes, filled with poised objects as characters evoke the paintings of Matisse, Philip Guston, Avery, Fairfield Porter, and Arthur Dove among the many. But most of all, it was Morandi (“one of the few painters who knew how to fuse sentiment with intelligence, who said a lot with few means,” she wrote), and de Kooning, who stood out as king.

“A color,” she remarked apropos of Cy Twombly’s “pungent … but thirst-stilling green … assaults a painter like an emotion, like a food. It’s visceral. The shock brings you delight and despair: red, the squeezed blood of murder or sacrifice or ripe grapes. Green, like the still pond with moss ferns or worms in its depth; violet in waves violently choking abandoned lovers; yellow, running pus or sinking summer sun. It’s a taste, leaving something new and full inside you. Was I wrong, or had Hooker’s green hooked him in Via del Corallo?”

She wrote as colorfully as she painted.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

All Issues