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Art of the Fantastic

A retrospective of paintings by Muriel Kalish

May 17, 2002 – August 25, 2002

Muriel Kalish typically creates her realm through the convergence of subject matter of the naturalistic world, such as a figurative nude or a landscape, and that which may be considered to be rather fantastic, such as the volcanic background of “The Silence of Evening” (1992), or the cats who exist on a seaside rock in “Cats at Water’s Edge.” For Kalish, all of these circumstances are logical – why shouldn’t a goddess be seated ay her dressing table? Or a unicorn stand on its island?

“Art of the Fantastic” marks Kalish’s first American retrospective exhibition, bringing works spanning nearly 40 years to the nation’s capitol. In the case of “Unicorn” (1994), Kalish writes in a letter that she wanted to convey the feeling of isolation and loneliness that the unicorn feels when he is captured, but also the sense of hope for escape with the surroundings of ocean, island, and an array of plants and flowers. Her rendition of the subject seems to nod to “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” the Franco-Flemish painting (circa 1500) which hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art near her home.

In spite of the face that she has never received formal training, Kalish’s work grew in a different way that that of the “naïve” painters – although her early paintings could well be classified as such. They were the fruit of a suddenly awakened need to communicate and lent wings by the “gift of inspiration,” responded to that impetus which must have picture-signs to come to grips with the world. The first family pictures and interiors portrayed an everyday world and sublimated reality. People and things arranged themselves on the canvas beautifully and with an urge to harmonize. What was naïve in them were the imperfections of form and the intuitive confidence with which they were made.

The kind of realities that are found in Muriel Kalish’s paintings arte those that consist of the visible and the imagined, the observed and the dreamed of, knowledge as well as vision. None of her creations could exist without the underground power of the “naïve” - without the belief in her own ability to respond intuitively to reality.

Born in 1932, Kalish moved to New York City in 1950, teaching herself to paint in the early 60s. Her first one-woman show took place at the Staempfli Gallery, New York, in 1964, which was followed by two major solo exhibitions at Staempfli in 1966 and 1978. Through the late 60s and early 70s, she participated in group shows at the Pan Am Fine Arts Gallery in New York (1965), the Albright-Know Gallery in Buffalo, New York (1966), the Bundy Art Museum in Waitsfield, Vermont (1972), the Herron Museum of Art in Indianapolis, Indiana (1973), the Pennsylvania State University Museum of Art (1973), and “A Museum Menagerie,” and exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1975.

During the 1970s, Kalish began a long-term involvement with the Galerie Brusberg Hanover in Germany, holding one-woman shows there in 1975 and 1980, followed by her first major retrospective in 1994, marking the 30th anniversary of her career as a painter.