Gilbert & George. Marina Abramovic and Ulay. Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The history of art is full of creative partnerships. One such collaboration is that between the late Jack Levine and Hyman Bloom, two Jewish artists from Boston who created an artistic style that blended Social Realism and abstraction into a thoroughly new and modern message.
This fall, New York’s ACA Galleries, which recently became the sole representative of the artists’ estates, presents “Against the Grain,” a show of paintings and works on paper created by the close friends between the 1930s and ’90s. The survey, which pulled from the artists’ estates and private collections, highlights the similarities between the two members of the Boston Expressionist circle, while reminding the viewer that these were two distinct creative minds in conversation, rather than a single artistic entity.
The most immediate difference that becomes evident is the artists’ varying choice of subject matter. Levine’s work is filled with figures, cartoonish to the point of nearly being caricatures or grotesques, representing various social classes ranging from a society grand damme at a dinner party to a couple of men at a poker game—and even titling one of the works Rich Man Poor Man (1938-39). With their gimlet eye cast on the culture of the day, the works call to mind their earlier European counterparts created by the artists of Germany’s Neue Sachlichkeit movement (though Levine’s treatment of his card players is certainly more gentle than Otto Dix’s rendering of the same topic).
In contrast, Bloom explores still lifes and other subjects beyond the figure, at the same time diving further into abstraction. In works like The Christmas Tree (1983) or Rabbi with Torah I (1995-2005), his hand is looser than Levine’s and the result is almost mysterious or mystical.
In their contrasts and similarities it becomes evident that Levine and Bloom were two artists with individual spirits—both in their personal practices and as lifelong collaborators. “We were both in our ways very unorthodox,” said Levine in the last interview before his death. “We didn’t follow anything I could think of.”