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Meadows Museum Hosts Work by Pioneering Abstract Expressionist Esteban Vicente
The Conversion, 1958. Oil and collage on canvas by Conrad Marca-Relli (American, 1913-2000), 57 7/8 x 87 in. (147 x 221 cm). Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin. Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1968, G1968.94. © 2011 Archivio Marca-Relli, Parma. Photo by Rick Hall.

DALLAS, TX.- Some 80 lyrical collages and polychrome sculptures are on display at the Meadows Museum at SMU as part of the exhibition Concrete Improvisations: Collages and Sculpture by Esteban Vicente. The exhibition, on view from May 15 through July 31, marks the first time Vicente’s collages and sculptures have been paired together in a major exhibition.

Vicente, a Spanish-born American painter, was a member of the first generation of New York Abstract Expressionists and a significant 20th century artist and teacher. Vicente participated in Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg’s landmark exhibition Talent 1950 and also helped to organize the seminal 9th Street show.

Vicente’s collages, which he first began producing in 1949, provide an insightful connection when viewed alongside works on paper created by some of his contemporaries, including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

Using newspaper advertisements for his first endeavors with the medium, Vicente then turned to fine handmade paper that he would paint and tear himself. By utilizing paper, Vicente connected himself with the Spanish masters of the technique, Picasso, Braque, and Gris, insisting that the “pure thing is to use paper for collage. That was the original idea.” Vicente’s collages show a dispersal of line and rich mixture of texture and color that is also closely aligned with the formal concerns of the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Vicente was one of the founding members of the New York Studio School. He also taught at numerous universities throughout the United States, counting among his students leading artists Chuck Close and Brice Marden. The objects included in the exhibition span fifty years of Vicente’s long career and include such works as Labels (1956), which precedes Warhol’s famous appropriation of the Campbell’s soup logo.

In conjunction with Concrete Improvisations, the Meadows Museum presents Esteban Vicente in America: Collage, Color and Somewhere in Between, which weaves together works by a number of Vicente’s contemporary colleagues with whom he shared a clear artistic affinity, including Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Mark Rothko. The exhibition aims to provide a context for understanding the work of Esteban Vicente after his arrival from Spain to New York in 1936, and will underscore the importance of this first-generation Abstract Expressionist.

“Concrete Improvisations will expose audiences to an artist who was an integral part of the Abstract Expressionist movement, but who is not well known to the public,” said Meadows Museum Director Mark Roglán. “As a museum with a core commitment to education, we are thrilled to showcase the pioneering work of an artist noted for his lifelong dedication to teaching.”

Vicente was a significant figure in the first generation of New York Abstract Expressionist artists, and was the only Spanish-born painter to participate in the movement. His focus on collages, which he called “concrete improvisations,” comprised nearly half of the artist’s yearly work and set him apart from his Abstract Expressionist peers. Vicente also created small-scale sculptures that he referred to as “toys” or divertimientos, and which were typically assembled from leftover bits of wood and scrap material found in his studio. Not initially intended for public display, the sculptures included in the exhibition reveal a lighthearted side of the artist and are interspersed with his collages.

Concrete Improvisations is accompanied by a fully illustrated, bilingual catalogue, Concrete Improvisations: Collages and Sculpture, Esteban Vicente. The catalogue reassesses Vicente’s career, analyzes his contribution to the medium of collage, and sheds new light on his intimate sculptures.

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