NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY TO PRESENT
THE FOLK ART COLLECTION OF ELIE AND VIOLA NADELMAN
May 20 – August 21, 2016
New York, NY, March 9, 2016 – Widely recognized for his elegant and spare modernist sculptures, Elie Nadelman is less known for his role as a pioneering American folk art collector. This summer, the New-York Historical Society will celebrate the seminal collection assembled by the modernist artist and his wife in The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman. On view May 20 through August 21, 2016 and featuring more than 200 objects across a wide range of media―including furniture, sculpture, paintings, ceramics, glass, iron, textiles, drawings and watercolors, and household tools―this is the first major exhibition to focus on the Nadelmans’ trailblazing venture. Many of the objects on view are drawn from the New-York Historical Society’s Nadelman collection, acquired from the artist in 1937, and will be supplemented by several key loans of Elie Nadelman’s sculpture.
“The objects collected by artist Elie Nadelman and his wife Viola comprised the first public folk art collection in the United States, as well as the first ever to consider the European roots of American folk art,” noted New-York Historical’s Vice President and Museum Director Margaret K. Hofer, who also serves as exhibition co-curator. “Since 1937, the Nadelmans’ astounding material legacy has held pride of place in the permanent collection of New York City’s first museum, the New-York Historical Society.”
Co-curator Dr. Roberta J. M. Olson, New-York Historical’s Curator of Drawings, added: “We hope visitors will leave the exhibition with new insights into the intersection of folk art and modernism, the Nadelmans’ enduring influence on the history of American art collecting, and the relationship between American and European folk art. The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman not only recognizes Elie Nadelman’s eye for collecting a rich cornucopia of wonderful yet simple forms, it also reexamines folk art’s influence on his own sculpture.”
Born in Poland, Elie Nadelman (1882–1946) studied sculpture prior to World War I in Munich and Paris, then a hotbed of avant-garde art and ideas. After immigrating to New York City in 1914, he established a reputation for his witty, modernist sculptures. Nadelman married Viola Spiess Flannery (1878–1962), a European-educated wealthy widow, in 1919. Shortly after their marriage, the dashing couple began collecting folk art, an endeavor that became an all-consuming obsession. From 1926 until 1937, the Nadelmans presented the voluminous collection, spanning six centuries and thirteen countries, in their groundbreaking Museum of Folk and Peasant Arts in Riverdale, NY. The Nadelmans’ innovative museum was the first of its type in the United States; in fact, they were among the earliest collectors to use the term “folk art” to describe vernacular objects marked by exuberant color, flat pattern, and simplicity of form.
The Nadelmans suffered financially with the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression, and by the early 1930s had begun to sell off works from their collection to finance its upkeep. In 1937, they sold the entire collection of some 15,000 objects to the New-York Historical Society, which was in the midst of a building expansion and recognized the Nadelman trove as an opportunity to capitalize on the contemporary surge of interest in the “common man.” The purchase enlivened New-York Historical’s formal galleries with engaging displays of objects of everyday life.
Organized primarily by medium and evoking the displays in the Nadelmans’ Museum of Folk and Peasant Arts, the exhibition will highlight new discoveries about objects in New-York Historical’s Nadelman collection, such as the identity of the young sitter in Joseph Whiting Stock's charming portrait, Willard T. Sears (1837–1920) with a Horse Pull Toy (ca. 1843), who went on to become a prominent New England architect. The exhibition will also trace the provenance of many of the Nadelmans’ purchases using data recorded on the curatorial cards of the Museum and Folk and Peasant Arts, which were retained by the family and had never been studied.
Other highlights include the regal Chalkware bust of a woman (ca. 1800-50), highly valued by the Nadelmans, who paid dearly for it. It represents a folk art type that may have influenced Nadelman’s Bust of a Woman (1882-1946), also on view. The monumental carved and painted wood statue Fire Chief Harry Howard (1822-1896) (ca. 1855), which stands at nearly nine feet tall, celebrates one of the most famous figures in New York City’s firefighting history. Humbly born, Howard rose to the highest rank in the city’s once all-volunteer force. The restoration work on the sculpture was done by Nadelman himself, a discovery made by co-curators Hofer and Olson.
Other exhibition highlights include objects from everyday life, such as an 18th-century Dutch baby walker (1700-50), a wooden rolling device similar to those used today that taught toddlers to walk; a kakelorum (1780-1810), a southern German game of chance played with marbles; and a spouted stoneware pitcher with cobalt blue flowers and vines (1798), an outstanding piece of early New York pottery and one of the Nadelmans’ most prized objects.
Prior to the exhibit in New York City, The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman was presented at the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico. The exhibition tour concludes at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, in fall 2016.
The exhibition is accompanied by the fully illustrated catalogue, Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman (D Giles Limited, 2015), co-authored by curators Margaret K. Hofer and Roberta J.M. Olson. Spanning 376 pages, it explores the origins of the collection and features 87 entries detailing more than 200 folk art objects, as well as nine entries examining sculptures by Elie Nadelman. In addition to Hofer and Olson, essay contributors include Elizabeth Stillinger, Cynthia Nadelman, Kenneth L. Ames, and Barbara Haskell. For more information, visit http://gilesltd.com/books/catalogue/art-decorative-arts/making-it-modern.
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman, musical historian Leon Botstein and renowned curator and art historian Barbara Haskell will discuss the influence of folk art, popular culture, and classicism on composers and artists of the 1920s and ’30s on Thursday, May 24 at the New-York Historical Society.
Support for the exhibition
The New-York Historical Society recognizes the Henry Luce Foundation for its exceptional commitment to The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman. Generous support has also been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support has been provided by the Greater Hudson Heritage Network and the American Folk Art Society. The exhibition publication is made in possible, in part, by Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society are made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research, presenting history and art exhibitions, and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical is the oldest museum in New York City. New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered political, cultural, and social history of New York City and State and the nation, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. For more information, visit: http://www.nyhistory.org/