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Exhibitions/ Abstract Expressionism and Other Modern Works

Abstract Expressionism and Other Modern Works: The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

September 18, 2007–March 2, 2008

Exhibition Overview

This exhibition presents fifty-five works assembled by Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman, one of the most prescient and astute collectors of the mid-twentieth century. Included in the roster of important paintings in the exhibition are: Jackson Pollock's Number 28, 1950, a supreme example of the artist at the height of his career; Attic (1949), a key work by Willem de Kooning from the 1940s; Franz Kline's Nijinsky (1950), the artist's first painting in his mature style; an early signature work by Clyfford Still; and Mark Rothko's glowing No. 3 (1953). Also featured are major works by slightly younger American artists working in the early 1960s, such as Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Claes Oldenburg. In addition, the Newman gift includes fine works by European modernists, such as Max Ernst's 1924 portrait of Gala Eluard (shown above); a 1927 Joan Miró from the Circus Horse series; a 1930 relief by Jean Arp; and Alberto Giacometti's bronze sculpture The Forest (1950).

The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection is the only extant collection of Abstract Expressionist works gathered at the time of their creation. Mrs. Newman's collection—"the best of the newest," as Chicago curator Katharine Kuh once described it—is also notable for its depth. In addition to the pivotal paintings and sculptures mentioned above, it includes wonderful works by Alexander Calder, Joseph Cornell, Arthur Dove, Helen Frankenthaler, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Fernand Léger, Jacques Lipchitz, John Marin, Matta, Larry Rivers, Anne Ryan, Kurt Schwitters, David Smith, and Wols, among others.

Known for her intelligence and enthusiasm, Muriel Newman combined her background as a painter, her love of New York, and her incredible eye for modern art to become one of the most prominent collectors of Abstract Expressionism. She was born in Chicago in 1914 and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Institute of Design, and the University of Chicago, then became an accomplished portrait painter. In 1938, she married Jay Z. Steinberg. Although a lifelong Chicagoan, Muriel Kallis Steinberg always loved New York, and the Steinbergs traveled there six to eight times a year. On a visit to New York in 1949, one of her art professors from Chicago introduced her to The Club, the hangout of a new generation of American artists. Known there as a fellow artist, she met the Abstract Expressionist painters who were just about to achieve recognition. Although the Steinbergs had begun to buy works by better-known European modernists—such as Miró, Léger, Arp, Schwitters, and Giacometti—by 1953 Muriel had decided to focus on the exciting new development in American art. Venturing into territory where there were few collectors, she acted quickly and with great discernment, choosing artists whom history would later validate. Without relying on advisors, by 1954 she had purchased superb paintings by Pollock, de Kooning, Kline, and Rothko.

In 1954, after the death of Jay Steinberg, Muriel stopped collecting for several years. She took it up again in the late 1950s, after her marriage to Albert Hardy Newman, during which period she added significant works by Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann, and Clyfford Still to her collection. The Newmans shared a passion for travel, and she acquired objects and textiles on trips to Egypt, Kathmandu, and other far-flung destinations; at the same time, she continued to be involved in promoting the cause of modern American art. In the early 1960s, Mrs. Newman visited New York in order to select works that could be purchased by supporters of the Art Institute of Chicago. Most of her choices—including paintings by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski—remained unsold; as a result, she bought them herself.

The Newmans began to look for a permanent home for the collection in the 1970s. In 1980, Mrs. Newman made a promised gift of the collection to the Met, and a major exhibition of the collection was organized at the Met in 1981. In 2006 she decided to make the gift immediate.

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The catalogue is made possible by the Blanche and A.L. Levine Fund and the Mary C. and James W. Fosburgh Publications Fund.

Exhibition Objects