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Blanton Museum of Ar acquires trove of Leon Polk Smith
Leon Polk Smith (Chickasha, OK, 1906 – New York City, 1996), George Washington Bridge, 1942. Ink, paint, wash, and pastel on paper, 8 1/2 x 11 in. Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of the Leon Polk Smith Foundation, 2017.

AUSTIN, TX.- Director Simone Wicha of the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin has announced that the museum has received a gift of seven works by the seminal American abstract painter Leon Polk Smith (1906–1996). The works come to the museum from the Leon Polk Smith Foundation and longtime Austin philanthropists Jeanne and Michael Klein.

"We're honored that the Leon Polk Smith Foundation chose the Blanton as the steward of these paintings and drawings," Wicha said. "This concentration of works by Leon Polk Smith brings historical depth to our holdings of postwar American painting and allows us to highlight Smith’s pioneering role in the development of abstract painting in the United States, from the new dynamism he brought to geometric abstraction to his prescient shaped canvases."

“Three elements which have interested me in art,” Smith wrote in 1961, “are: line, color, and the concept of space and its use as a positive force.” The seven works coming to the Blanton date from between 1942 and 1959, an inspired period for Smith; they clearly demonstrate his love for these elements. Spanning nearly two decades of the artist’s career, they also show the evolution of his own original approaches to abstraction from pre- to post-war America.

Each of the works displays fierce forward thinking, with two drawings of the George Washington Bridge from 1942 abstracting the structure to its fundamental vectors. One of the paintings, GWB (1945), introduces arcing lines into the rectilinear vocabulary of geometric abstraction prevalent at the time. The later works are, by contrast, elegantly curving, shaped canvases.

All three paintings – GWB (1945/94), Moon (1958–59), and Yellow White Sun (1958–59) – will go on display this fall in the museum’s upstairs galleries, which are dedicated to showcasing the permanent collection. One of the works on paper will be part of an exhibition opening in the spring in the museum’s Paper Vault gallery.

The Smith works display art ahead of its time for a man born in 1906. Polk grew up in Oklahoma shortly after it became a state, and would go on to explore works that luxuriated in pure explorations of geometry and color, long before other Americans generally began to appreciate such expressions on their own terms. Polk worked as a rancher and in highway construction before discovering the work of Piet Mondrian, Constantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp at A.E. Gallatin’s Gallery of Living Art, then at New York University, in 1936.

“The Foundation’s gift, along with the promised gift from benefactors Jeanne and Michael Klein, gives the Blanton a variety of significant works to draw upon for its highly respected mission at The University of Texas and in Austin, Texas,” said John B. Koegel, Chairman and Treasurer of the Leon Polk Smith Foundation.

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