Esteban Vicente exhibition at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery

February 10, 2011

Esteban Vicente, Spanish Refugee Aid, 1972, silkscreen on paper. Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente, Segovia Spain.

Today I visited NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, which is hosting (until March 26, 2011) a lovely exhibition titled “Concrete Improvisations:  Collages and Sculpture by Esteban Vicente.”  I was accompanied by Julia Newman, former Executive Director of ALBA, who is also the creator of the film “Into the Fire:  American Women and the Spanish Civil War”, and who was a close friend of the late Harriet Vicente, Esteban’s widow.

Vicente was born in Turégano, Segovia, Spain, in 1903.  His promising artistic career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.  The scholar Daniel Haxall writes:

Stranded in Madrid as the war began, Vicente became intimately involved with the Republican cause.  He painted camouflage for the Loyalists and his three brothers fought Franco’s troops on the frontlines.  After fleeing to New York in 1936, Vicente continued to serve the Republic, working in the consulate’s office in Philadelphia while arranging transportation for expatriates willing to serve in the army.”

A founding member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism –he shared a studio with deKooning for some years— Vicente also taught at Yale, Princeton, the New York Studio School, and NYU.  Chuck Close and Mary Heilmann were among his students.  Vicente remained a staunch supporter of the vanquished Republicans throughout his long artistic career (he died in 2001), participating, for example in fundraising exhibitions for Spanish Refugee Aid, the organization founded by Nancy Macdonald in 1953 to aid the almost half-million Spaniards who were eking out an existence as refugees, primarily in France and Latin America.

According to the website of the Grey Art Gallery, “Concrete Improvisations is the 
first major American museum exhibition to pair collages and sculptures by … Esteban Vicente… The approximately 80 works are drawn from public and private collections in Spain and the U.S. Organized by the Grey Art Gallery, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Esteban Vicente (Segovia), and the State Corporation for Spanish Cultural Action Abroad, SEACEX, the show is curated by Lynn Gumpert, Edward J. Sullivan, and Ana Martínez de Aguilar, and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue” which contains essays by Sullivan and Haxall, as well as an interview with Chuck Close.

Information on Esteban Vicente and the Spanish Civil War, as well as the illustration and caption details are taken from the fascinating article by Daniel Haxall:  “This tragedy still continues:  Esteban Vicente, the New York School, and the Spanish Civil War” (Montage 2, 2008, pp. 21-37).