April 11, 2017
Julian Stanczak, Abstract Painter, Dies at 88
New York Times, 04/11/2017
Roberta Smith

News

Julian Stanczak, Abstract Painter, Dies at 88
New York Times, 04/11/2017
Roberta Smith

Julian Stanczak, a Polish-born American abstract painter who rose to fame as a leading figure of the popular Op Art movement but slipped into obscurity when its reputation flagged, died on March 25 at his home in Seven Hills, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by his New York gallery, Mitchell-Innes & Nash. His family said that he had died after a short illness.

Mr. Stanczak was a firmly optimistic artist, despite injuries in a Soviet labor camp during World War II that rendered his dominant right arm useless. He helped name the art movement to which he was linked in 1964 when his New York debut at the Martha Jackson Gallery was titled “Julian Stanczak: Optical Paintings.”

Reviewing that exhibition in Arts magazine, Donald Judd, then an emerging Minimalist sculptor, coined the phrase Op Art in a sardonic closing sentence, linking the upsurge in perceptual abstraction, as it was sometimes called, to the Museum of Modern Art’s plans to survey the trend.

Indeed, Op Art went supernova in 1965, with the Modern’s exhibition “The Responsive Eye” (even though the museum avoided the term). While critically derided, the exhibition set attendance records at the museum. It represented around 100 artists, from 15 countries and nearly three generations, working in assorted optical or geometric styles.

Mr. Stanzcak’s art evinced a tremendous geometric inventiveness. He constantly elaborated on the possibilities of parallel stripes, both straight and undulant; squares, both checkerboard and concentric; and grids, usually amplified by contrasting saturated colors.

He once told an interviewer that his style was an attempt to forget about his war traumas. “I did not want to be bombarded daily by the past,” he said. “I looked for anonymity of actions through nonreferential abstract art.”

But his work was far from anonymous. He produced some of the most emotionally gripping paintings associated with the Op trend. This was achieved partly by his delicately textured paint surfaces and partly by the soft light that often infiltrated his forms and patterns, the result of an infinitesimal adjustment of the shades of one or two colors.

His main concern, in fact, was color, which he viewed subjectively. “Color is abstract, universal,” he once said, “yet personal and private in experience. It primarily affects us emotionally, not logically, as do tangible things.”

Julian Stanczak was born on Nov. 5, 1928, on his grandfather’s farm near the village of Borownica, Poland. His father worked in construction and built houses in addition to farming, and Julian loved to make things from wood, including furniture and toys.

In 1940, during Russia’s occupation of the eastern half of the country, Mr. Stanczak and his family were caught up in the first wave of mass deportations of Poles to Siberian labor camps. They ended up cutting timber in the Ural Mountains, where conditions were brutal. Mr. Stanczak survived pneumonia, encephalitis and near starvation, but overwork permanently incapacitated his right arm.

In 1942 the Soviet Union granted amnesty to imprisoned Polish citizens, and Mr. Stanczak and his family walked and hitchhiked 2,500 miles south to Tehran, where his father joined the Polish Army in exile. Saying he was 17 and not 14, Mr. Stanczak also joined — partly to eat, partly in the hope that the army’s doctors might help his arm. When they made it worse, he deserted. Mr. Stanczak, his mother and his sister ended up spending six years in a Polish refugee camp in Uganda.

There, Mr. Stanczak learned to write and paint left-handed. He was, he said, profoundly affected by the African light, the intensely colored sunsets and what he called “the immense visual energy” of nature there — the plants, trees and animals, especially zebras. He also admired the geometric patterns of the textiles from which Ugandan women made their clothing.

By 1948, when his family was reunited in London, Mr. Stanczak was making small, patterned abstractions in bright colors or in black and white. He studied art at the Borough Polytechnic Institute for two years and devoted himself to the city’s art museums. In 1950 the family relocated to Cleveland, and in 1954 he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art.

He then studied for his master’s at Yale with Conrad Marca-Relli and Josef Albers, who was well known for his color theories (and who was also the oldest artist in the “Responsive Eye” exhibition). Mr. Stanczak’s roommate was Richard Anuszkiewicz, another graduate of the Cleveland Institute and, later, another prominent Op artist.

Mr. Stanczak, who became a United States citizen in 1957, taught at the Cincinnati Academy of Art for seven years. In 1964, the year of his first New York show, he was appointed professor of painting at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where he taught for 38 years.

He married Barbara Meerpohl, a sculptor, in 1963. She survives him, as do their daughter, Danusia M. Casteel; their son, Krzys; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Mr. Stanczak remained affiliated with the Martha Jackson Gallery until it closed in 1979, by which time Op Art had been largely superseded by Minimalism and other more austere kinds of geometric abstraction — at least within the confines of New York. He continued to exhibit frequently elsewhere, especially in galleries and museums across the Midwest; more than 90 museums in the United States and abroad ultimately acquired his work. But he did not have a solo show in New York until 2004, at the Stefan Stux Gallery, followed by another there in 2005.

On that occasion Grace Glueck of The New York Times noted that Mr. Stanczak’s work “has steadily become more refined and ingenious” and asked, “Who says Op Art is dead?”

By then, renewed interest was bringing it back to life. From 2010 to 2016, D. Wigmore Fine Art, a New York gallery, mounted six group shows examining different aspects of Op Art, including its manifestations in Ohio; the shows featured Mr. Stanczak’s work prominently. Articles on his work appeared in Artforum and Art in America.

In 2012, Mr. Stanczak’s paintings were included in “Ghosts in the Machine,” a thematic exhibition at the New Museum in Manhattan. In 2014, he had his first show with Mitchell-Innes & Nash. A second one will open there next month.

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January 17, 2017
Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts
J. Willard Marriott Library
The University of Utah, 01/17/2017

The University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library will host the art exhibition Globalocation: Celebrating 20 Years of Artnauts, Jan. 20-March 3.

Artnauts, an art collective formed 20 years ago by George Rivera, professor of art and art history at the University of Colorado, Boulder, consists of 300 global artists who serve as goodwill ambassadors, acknowledging and supporting victims of oppression worldwide. Their creativity has generated over 230 exhibitions across five continents. Five faculty members from the U’s Department of Art and Art History are members of the collective, Sandy Brunvand, Beth Krensky, V. Kim Martinez, Brian Snapp and Xi Zhang.

Globalocation derives from “Globalocational Art” — a concept used by the Artnauts to refer to their exhibitions in international venues. It is the mission of the Artnauts to take art to places of contention, and this anniversary exhibition is a sample of places where they have been and themes they have addressed.

“The Artnauts could not exist without the commitment of the artists in the collective to a common vision of the transformative power of art,” said Rivera. “The Artnauts make their contribution with art that hopefully generates a dialogue with an international community on subjects that are sometimes difficult to raise.”

Krensky, associate department chair of the Art and Art History Department, had the opportunity to travel with Rivera in Chile as part of an Artnauts project, working with mothers who were searching for their children who had mysteriously disappeared during a time of political unrest.

“When I travelled to Chile in 1998, George and I spent an afternoon with the Mothers of the Disappeared, and the meeting changed my life,” said Krensky. “It was from that moment on that I placed a picture of them on my desk to look at every day. I was so moved by what they each had lost — a son, a brother, a father — and yet what remained for them was a deep, deep well of love. They were fierce warriors and stood up to the government to demand the whereabouts and information of the people who had disappeared, but they lived within profound love.”

The 20th anniversary exhibition at the Marriott Library is a retrospective of the traveling works the Artnauts have toured around the globe. The exhibition will be located on level three of the library. The opening reception is open to the public and will be held on Friday, Jan 20, 4-6 p.m. Rivera will speak at 4 p.m.

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