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BORIS MARGO

(1902-1995)

Painter, Sculptor & Printmaker

By Ben Caldwell

Boris Margo was an Ukranian artist. He attended The Polytechnic of Art in Odessa. In 1930, he immigrated to The United States. Margo excelled in printmaking, painting and wood sculpture. He experimented on unique materials and methods. He had a spontaneous approach which was similar to those of a Surrealist.




Table of Contents

I. BIOGRAPHY

Born in Wolotschick Ukraine in 1902, Boris Margo grew up in a middle class family with four other siblings. He became interested in painting at an early age, but revolutionary movements in Russia made materials scarce.

In 1918, Margo received a scholarship to study at the Polytechnik Art School in Odessa, where he encountered formal training and figure drawing for the first time. When he executed a stylized drawing of a nude, the young artist was reprimanded by his instructor. Nevertheless, this event revealed his creative tendencies. Margo participated in Futemus constructivist workshop in Moscow before moving to Leningrad in 1927 to study under Pavel Filinov (1888-1943). Filonov taught a curriculum based on creative expression and surrealist tendencies, which engaged Margo in applying more automatic thinking to his work.

Margo graduated from the Polytechnik in 1928 and moved to Montreal Canada after receiving a government permit to study abroad. Previous experience as a mural painter in Montreal eventually led to his employment as an assistant to Arshile Gorky (1904-1944) in New York City. During this same period, Margo began to study at the Roerich Museum of Art, where he later became an instructor.

During the Great Depression, Margo was forced to work with supplies he either made or found. Through this experince, the artist developed the cellocut as well as decalcomania. The cellotype is a printmaking process by which plastic is melted with acetate and then poured onto a backing such as cardboard. Once the plastic is hardened it can be worked by various tools into either a relief or intaglio plate. Decalcomania is a transfer process, which allows the artist to transfer printmaking images onto canvas or other surfaces.

In 1939 Margo held his first one-man exhibition at the Artists Gallery in New York City. Shortly after, the artist traveled to the coastal city of Provincetown, MA with printmaker and his soon-to-be wife, Jan Gelb (1906-1978). After becoming inspired by the various elements they found along the local beach, the couple made it a tradition to spend their summers in the area.

Margo pioneered several new methods that have left a lasting impression on printmaking. The Metropolitan Museum acknowledged his work by purchasing his cellocut, Floating Objects Illuminated, 1942. Margo also taught at numerous Institutes and Universities around the country including the Art Institute of Chicago. He continued to exhibit his work until his death in 1995 at the age of 93.

II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK

“During those years of war and revolution in the Soviet Union, Invention, daughter of Necessity, become the habitual companion of my art thinking.” -Boris Margo, The Tigers Eye

Boris Margo’s career was marked by creative invention and experimentation through the use of unique materials and methods. His spontaneous approach and innovative process is similar to those of a Surrealist; however, Margo worked independently and did not allow the Surrealist philosophies to consume his idea of art. Margo worked primarily in printmaking, but he also excelled in painting and wood sculpture.

His series of work often began with an initial idea, such as a natural object or an event. He would subtly integrate further content based on his interpretation of the experience. The finished work was not meant to document a state but rather evoke an emotional response similar to that of the actual event. Margo found that titles became a distraction from the purpose of his prints; therefore, he left many pieces untitled.

Throughout the artist’s career, several compositional elements reoccur. Margo would juxtapose light florescent hues with dark, dull colors. It is not the unique and interesting quality of the colors themselves that intrigued the artist, but rather, it was their relation to one another. In his prints, Margo was able to show a pervasive awareness of how negative space affected the entire composition. It was his placement of shapes within the canvas or on paper which created, as he felt, interesting juxtapositions of negative and positive space.

In Margo’s art of the mid to late 1930s, organic forms and figures occupy dreamlike environments . His work during this period reflects the Surrealist movement, which was itself influenced by the works of Pieter Bruegel (about 1525-69) and Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). It was during this time that Margo received the nickname “Morbid Margo” due to his somber imagery and his personal responses to his experiences of the Great Depression within both Russia and New York.

In the early 1940s, Margo’s work began to take on abstract forms. While intricate line work dissects the picture plane, the figure often disappears. From the late 1940s and into early 1960s, his work reflected new scientific discoveries. The sculpture, From Antennae, 1950, an aluminum and plastic, references as well as documents his experience within the new communication era. During this time, he also worked in a variety of styles, which ranged from a very simplistic to a highly intricate technique. In his last works, Margo explored various egg and calligraphy motifs.

III. CHRONOLOGY

  • 1902 Born in Wolotschisk, Russia
  • 1919 Admitted to the Polytechnik of Art in Odessa, Russia
  • 1927 Studied in Leningrad under Pavel Filinov on a Polytechnik study program
  • 1929 Moved to Montreal on a government permit; worked as a mural painter
  • 1930 Moved to New York on a student Visa and began studying at the Roerich Museum
  • 1932 Began experimenting with the Cellocut process; began teaching at the Roerich Museum
  • 1939 First one man show at the Artists Gallery in New York
  • 1940 First Summer at Provincetown, MA
  • 1941 Married artist Jan Gelb
  • 1942 Metropolitan Museum purchased the cellocut Floating objects Illuminated
  • 1943 Became an American Citizen
  • 1945 Brooklyn Museum purchased the cellocut Composition III
  • 1946 Visiting artist at the American University, Washington, DC
  • 1954 Visiting artist at the Summer Arts Festival, Abigdon, VA
  • 1956 Gave lectures and demonstrations at School of the Arts Institute of Chicago and Minneapolis School of Art
  • 1957-59 Visiting Professor, School of the Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, IL
  • 1959 Artist in Residence, Michigan State University
  • 1960 Visiting Professor, University of Illinois
  • 1962 Visiting Artist, University of Minnesota, Duluth
  • 1963 Visiting Lecturer, University of North Carolina
  • 1965 Artist in Residence at the Bowers Museum, Santa Ana, CA
  • 1966-67 Visiting Professor, School of Art, Syracuse University
  • 1995 Died in Hyannis, MA
  • IV. COLLECTIONS

  • Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover MA
  • Albion College, Albion, MI
  • Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo, NY
  • Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
  • Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • Brown University, Providence, RI
  • Chase National Banks
  • Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
  • Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH
  • Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH
  • Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
  • Isaac Delgado Museum of Ar, New Orleans, LA
  • Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
  • Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu, HI
  • IBM Collection, New York City
  • Joslyn Museum of Art, Omaha, NB
  • Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI
  • Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO
  • Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, CA
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, MA
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • Museum of Modern Art, New York City
  • New York Public Library, New York City
  • Northern Illinois University, De Kalb, IL
  • Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa, Ca
  • Philadelphia Free Library Philadelphia, PA
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
  • Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
  • Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
  • Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA
  • San Jose State College Library, San Jose, CA
  • Sao Paulo Museum of Art, Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich, CT
  • Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
  • Texas Wesleyan College Library, Fort Worth, TX
  • University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
  • University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
  • University of Louisville, Louisville KY
  • University of Maine, Orono, MN
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
  • Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City
  • Yale University, New Haven, CT
  • V. SOLO EXHIBITIONS

  • 1939 The Artists Gallery, New York City
  • 1946 Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1946 The American University, Washington DC
  • 1946 Montimer Brandt Gallery, New York City
  • 1947 The Betty Parsons Gallery, New York City
  • 1947 Graphic Work, 1934-1947, Brooklyn Museum
  • 1948 The Cellocut, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC
  • 1950 The Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1951 Art Center Gallery, Louisville, KY
  • 1951 The Months, Norton Gallery, Palm Beach, FL
  • 1952 University of Maine, Orono, ME
  • 1953 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1955 Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1956 The Society of American Graphic Artists, New York, NY
  • 1962 Retrospective, Tweed Gallery, University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN; Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia SC; Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Savannah, GA; Columbus Museum of Arts and Crafts, Columbus GA; Fort Lauderdale Museum of the Arts, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Norton Gallery of Art, West Palm Beach, FL
  • 1963 Witherspoon Gallery, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, NC
  • 1964 Boris Margo, Recent Works, World House Galleries, New York
  • 1965 Charles C. Bowers Memorial Museum, Santa Ana, CA
  • 1966 Retrospective, Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery, Syracuse University, New York, NY
  • 1973 Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawaii
  • 1977 Retrospective, Maurice M. Pine Free Public Library, Fair Lawn, NJ
  • 1978Boris Margo Paintings and Work on Paper, 1934-47, Monique Knowlton Gallery, NY
  • 1988 Retrospective Exhibition, Provincetown Art Association and Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Fl
  • 1992 Stuart Levy Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1993 Surrealism to Abstraction, 1932-1952, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1994 Surrealism to Abstraction, Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, FL
  • 1995 Fantasy in Form, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1998 Boris Margo: Divine Light, Paintings on paper from 1950-1952, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • VI. GROUP EXHIBITIONS

  • 1942 Artists for Victory Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • 1942- 25 Creative American Artists Exhibition, Cincinnati Modern Art Society, Cincinnati, OH
  • 1943 Collages, Art of this Century Gallery, New York City, NY (Organized by Peggy Guggenheim)
  • 1944 National Print Exhibition, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
  • 1944 Abstract and Surrealist Art in America, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, OH; Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO; Seattle Art museum, Seattle, WA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA; San Francisco Museum of Art; Mortimer Brandt Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1946 Annual Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1947 Graphic Circle, Jaques Seligmann Galleries, New York, NY
  • 1947 58h Annual American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago
  • 1947 National Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1949 Graphic Circle, Jaques Seligmann Galleries, New York, NY
  • 1950 American Painting Today, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • 1950 Annual Contemporary Painting Exhibition, University of Illinois, Champaign IL
  • 1950 10th Annual Exhibition, Society for Contemporary American Painting Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • 1950 Postwar American Painting, University of Michigan, Lansing, MI
  • 1950 American Painting 1950, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
  • 1950 Annual Exhibition Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
  • 1951 Annual Contemporary Painting Exhibition, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
  • 1951 Biennial Exhibition, Sao Paulo Museum of Art, Brazil
  • 1951 Fifteen Years on Review, Artists Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1951 Revolution and Tradition in American Art, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1951 60th Annual American Exhibition, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • 1951 61st Annual Exhibition, University of Minnesota, MN
  • 1951 5th Annual Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1952 American Watercolors, Drawing and Prints, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • 1952 Annual Contemporary American Painting Exhibition, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
  • 1952 Biennial Exhibition, Sao Paulo Museum of Art, Brazil
  • 1952 Carnegie International Exhibition, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburg, PA
  • 1952 New Expressions in Fine Printmaking, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1952 Annual Exhibition Contemporary Watercolors and Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1952 The Contemporaries, Well of the Sea Gallery, Chicago, IL
  • 1952 6th Annual Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1953 Paintings in the USA, Los Angeles County Fair, Los Angeles, CA
  • 1953 International Watercolor Exhibition, 17th Biennale, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1953 Annual Exhibition Contemporary Watercolors and Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1953 1st Annual National Print Exhibition, Dallas Texas
  • 1953 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1953 Candidates for Grants in the Arts, National Institute Arts and Letters, New York, NY
  • 1953 Moderne Amerikaanse Grafiek, Municipal Museum S’Gravenhage, The Netherlands
  • 1953 7th Annual Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1953 14 Painters and Printmakers, The Brooklyn Museum
  • 1953 1st Artists Annual Show, 9th Street Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1953 Contemporary Religious Art, Church of the Ascension, New York, NY
  • 1954 Biennial Exhibition, Musea de Arte Moderna, Sao Paulo Museum of Art, Brazil
  • 1954 25th Anniversary Exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
  • 1954 61st Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, IL
  • 1954 12th National Exhibition of Prints, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
  • 1954 14 Painters-Printmakers, Kraushaar Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1954 Annual Exhibition Contemporary Watercolors and Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1954 8th Annual Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1954 Graphic Arts-USA, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
  • 1954 2nd Invitational Print Exhibition, University of Minnesota, MN
  • 1954 Exchange Exhibition of Prints, National Academies of Rome, Bologna, Carrara, Venice, Milan and Turin
  • 1955 The Embellished Surface, Circulated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
  • 1955 Annual Exhibition Contemporary Watercolors and Drawings, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1955 Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors, AAA Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1955 Graphic Outlook, Contemporaries Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1955 9th Annual Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1955 International Watercolor Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1955 4th Artists Annual Show, Stable Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1955 Modern Art in the United States, Museum of Barcelona, Spain
  • 1956 American Artists Paint the City, 28th Biennial Venice, Italy
  • 1956 Modern Art in the United States (Circulated by Museum of Modern Art), shown at Tate Gallery and other European Museums
  • 1956 Society of American Graphic Artists, New York, NY
  • 1957 25th Biennial Exhibition, Corcoran Gallery, The Smithsonian Institute of Art, Washington, DC
  • 1957 First International Exhibition of Prints, Modern Museum of Art, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1958 Nature in Abstraction, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1958 First International Biennial, Museum of Art, Mexico City, Mexico
  • 1959 26th Biennial Exhibition, Corcoran Gallery, The Smithsonian Institute of Art, Washington, DC
  • 1960 National Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1961 Annual Contemporary Painting Exhibition, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL
  • 1961 International Prints, Auckland Gallery in New Zealand and other Galleries, New Zealand
  • 1962 International Arts Exhibition, Saigon, Vietnam
  • 1962 Japan Print Association’s International Exhibition, Tokyo, Japan
  • 1963 28th Biennial Exhibition, Corcoran Gallery, Smithsonian Institute of Art, Washington, DC
  • 1964 National Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1964 Contemporary American Prints, Gallerie Nees Morphes, Athens, Greece
  • 1964 30 Contemporary American Prints, IBM Gallery, New York City
  • 1967 North Carolina Collects, North Carolina Museum of Art
  • 1970 35th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
  • 1975- 30 Years of American Art 1945-75: selections from the Permanent Collection III, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
  • 1976 30 Years of American Printmaking, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY
  • 1977 Surrealism and American Art, 1931-1947, Zimili Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
  • 1977 Provincetown Painters 1890s-1970s, Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse; Provincetown Art Association
  • 1986 Surrealist Books and Prints, New York Public Library, New York, NY
  • 1988 Masterworks on Paper: 1800-1960, Susan Sheehan inc., New York, NY
  • 1993 Lines and Myths: 1990- A Spectrum of Innovation Color in American Printmaking, 1890-1960, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX; The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA
  • 1993 Lines and Myths: Abstraction in American Art 1941-1951, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1993 The 1950s, Snyder Fine Art, New York, NY
  • 1993 On Paper: The Figure in 20th Century American Art, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1994 Counterpoints: 1930-1945, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1994 Americana Fantastica: Surrealism in America, Parrish Art Museum, South Hampton, NY
  • 1995 Collage: Made in America, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1995 American Masters of Watercolor: 100 Year Survey, Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Loretto, PA
  • 1995 Exploring the Unknown: Surrealism in American Art, Michael Rosenfield Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1996 Other Artists of the ‘50s, Miami-Dade Community College, Miami, FL
  • 1997 Singular Impressions: The Monotype in America, The National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC
  • 1997 Surrealism and American Art 1932-1949, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL
  • 1998 The Surrealist Vision: Europe and The Americas, Bruce Museum, Greenwich, FL
  • 1999 Linear Impulse, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 1999 Impossible Landscapes of the Mind, Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, NY
  • 1999 Surrealism in America During the 1930s and 1940s: Selections from the Penny and Elton Yasuna Collection, Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL
  • 1999 The Surrealist in Exile and the Origin of the New York School, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reine Sofia, Madrid Spain; Musees de Strasbourg, Strasbourg
  • 2000 Michael Rosenfeld Gallery: The First Decade, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2001 1950-1956: Abstraction on Paper, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, NY
  • 2001 Abstract Expressionism: Expanding the Canon, Gary Snyder Fine Art, New York, NY
  • 2005 After Dark: Nocturnal Images, Barbara Mathes Gallery Prints with/out pressure, The New York City Public Library, New York, NY
  • VII. AWARDS

  • 1946 The Mildred Boericke Purchase Prize, First Award for Cellocut Print, Philadelphia Print Club, PA
  • 1947 Watson F. Blair Purchase Prize, Chicago Art Institute
  • 1947, 1953, 1955, 1960, 1964 Print Exhibition Purchase Prize, Brooklyn Museum
  • 1960 Purchase Award for Painting, Portland Museum, ME
  • 1962 Diploma of Merit, First International Arts Exhibit, Saigon, Vietnam
  • Ford Foundation Artist in Residence Award
  • Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts
  • VIII. BIBLIOGRAPHY

    1. 1. Maurice M. Pine. Free Public Library Catalogue. 1977.
    2. 2. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery Website. http://www.michaelrosenfeldart.com/
    3. 3. Prints and Sculpture by Boris Margo. Honolulu Academy of Arts, 1973.
    4. 4. Retrospective Exhibition. Provincetown Art Association. 1988.
    5. 5. Schmecker, Laurence. Boris Margo: Graphic Work 1932-1968.
    6. 6. Surrealism and American Art 1931-1947. Rutgers University Art Gallery. 1977.
    7. 7. Retrospective Exhibition. Joe and Emily Lowe Art Gallery. Syracuse University. 1966.
    8. 8. The Tigers Eye. New York Publishing Company. vol. 1. Ed. 1. June 15, 1949.