This presentation of artwork by artist/activist Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) from the 1920s through 1943 from a career that spans seven decades, includes three rare paintings from the early 1920s, a selection of screen prints from his 1943 Century of the Common Man portfolio, eight of which were featured in the Whitney’s new downtown building inaugural exhibition, America is Hard to See, and lithographs from his Das Kapital, Comrade Gulliver, and Aesop Said So portfolios from the 1930s.
This showing of Gellert’s paintings is especially important, as his paintings are very rare due to the fact that his primary output was in mural painting, illustration, and printmaking. In writing about Gellert’s paintings, Murdock Pemberton, inaugural art critic of The New Yorker, referred to the artist as “one of the most individual American moderns, painting from the inside rather than from some French source.”
Also on view are drawings and collages from the 1920s and 1930s, a 1938 video clip and an installation of ephemera from the artist’s personal effects and correspondence, including photographs, pamphlets, letters, and publications, which underscore Gellert’s cultural importance as a radical art activist. He consistently fought against racism, fascism, and sexism to promote equal human and labor rights.
Gellert was born in Budapest in 1892 and immigrated with his family to New York in 1906. After studying at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design, the outbreak of WWI and the death of his brother flamed his interest in politics. He was an active contributor to radical political journals such as Masses, The Liberator, including its inaugural cover, and New Masses. Gellert was also a staff artist for The New Yorker from its inception in 1925 through 1946, and his portraits and illustrations populate many of The New Yorker magazines. His last major museum exhibition was in Hungary in 1968 at the National Gallery in Budapest. Throughout his life, Gellert was known for his involvement in Hungarian-American art and activism and is widely considered one of the most influential political artists of the first half of the 20th century. He died in 1985 at 93.
His works are in the collections of the British Museum, London; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Wolfsonian Museum, Florida International University, Miami among others.
Mary Ryan Gallery is the exclusive representative of the Hugo Gellert estate.