Holland Carter writes the obituary for proto-Abstract Expressionist Hyman Bloom in the New York Times. Here Carter tells the story of the reclusive Bloom’s discovery and then explains why the devotee of mysticism fell out of favor:
In the 1930s, when Mr. Bloom was working for the Federal Arts Project in Boston, his virtuosic painting caught the eye of project’s director, Holger Cahill, whose wife, Dorothy C. Miller, was a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She put 13 of Mr. Bloom’s pictures in “Americans 1942,” the museum’s prestigious periodic survey of new art. It was his first exhibition anywhere.
Others quickly followed, at galleries in New York and Boston. He was included in the 1949 Carnegie International and then in the 1950 Venice Biennale, along with Arshile Gorky, William de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. When a traveling retrospective of his work appeared at the Whitney Museum of America Art, the influential critic and curator Thomas Hess wrote in Art News that “Bloom at 40 is one of the outstanding painters of his generation.” De Kooning and Pollock identified him as the first Abstract Expressionist in America.
Art, like all pursuits, has practical consequences that derive from aesthetic choices and the mysticism that energized Bloom also limited his enduring appeal:
His investment in Jewish mysticism, while non-Orthodox, was deep, counterbalancing his impulse to see life as brutalizing Darwinian contest. Some critics have taken his autopsy paintings as a personal response to World War II.
All of these elements, emphatically manifested in his art, shaped and limited his audience. And two specific factors led to a rapid drop from favor. By the 1950s, abstraction had been embraced as the progressive mode, and Mr. Bloom never made completely abstract work. And at a time when New York was developing into a major international power base for art, he stayed in Boston.
As luck would have it, the Yeshiva Museum will open a show Hyman Bloom: A Spiritual Embrace on September 13th. The show contains 50 works and will run through January at the Yeshiva Museum’s 16th Street location in New York City.
Hyman Bloom, A Painter of the Mystical, is Dead at 96 (New York Times)