edwardbibermanGALLERYZ

A PLACE IN THE SUN
CATCHING UP WITH EDWARD BIBERMAN'S LOS ANGELES

Article from Los Angeles Times Magazine by Emily Young

The images are familiar yet hard to place: A parking meter and street lamp framed against a blank wall. A wood fence overrun by a climbing vine. A freeway ramp slicing through a cloudless azure sky. These carefully wrought Modernist visions of Los Angeles are so iconic and contemporary-looking that it's hard to believe they were painted half a century ago by transplant Edward Biberman.

Never heard of him? Not to worry.

The Pasadena Museum of California Art exhibit "Edward Biberman's L.A." (through Feb. 15) offers a tantalizing introduction to the Philadelphia-born artist, whose subjects were inextricably entwined with the events that shaped his adopted hometown. From the time he arrived in 1936 to his death in 1986, he chronicled life here, both good and bad.

Though his portraits of Lena Horne and Dashiell Hammett are in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, the left-leaning Biberman initially devoted more of his energy to depicting Depression-era bread lines, the struggles of organized labor and the Communist witch hunt in Hollywood that undercut his career. Ironically, he is perhaps best remembered for the whimsical Venice post office mural of developer Abbot Kinney.

But the current exhibit focuses on an entirely different phase of Biberman's artistic evolution, postwar urban scenes rendered in a hard-edge Modernism that resonates strongly today. The dozen colorful paintings on masonite, guest-curated by Ilene Susan Fort of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, create a unique sense of place with crisp lines, minimalist shapes and atmospheric shading. In these light-washed compositions, Southern California's palm trees, architecture and freeways figure more prominently than people.

"What Biberman documented was the coming of age of Los Angeles when so many soldiers were coming back to California to settle into jobs and the good life," says Fort, who also will curate a full Bibermman retrospective at the PMCA next November. "He did it with individual buildings in work that was personal, immaculate, pristine. It was as if he was saying, 'This is a new beginning.'"

Born in 1904, Biberman trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and studied painting in Paris. When he moved to New York, his work landed in shows at the fledging Museum of Modern Art. He came west to join his brother, Herbert, a writer-director, and later married Sonja Dahl, who, at 93, now lives in Northern California.

Biberman remained popular until social realism, a style he used for his politically charged paintings, fell out of favor. When his brother was branded a member of the Hollywood Ten, he suffered further from guilt by association. Still, Biberman continued to paint, teach and write, developing a pre-Hockney Los Angeles aesthetic that would influence the art world's next generation.

His great-nephew, Jeremy Strick, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, often visited Biberman's Hollywood Hills studio. "At the point I became seriously interested in art in high school, Uncle Edward was someone I turned to," Strick says. "His work brings together various strains of Modernism and applies them to landscape of Southern California as well as some of the pressing issues of the time."

So what does Strick make of the renewed interest in his great-uncle's oeuvre? "This exhibit and the retrospective afford an opportunity for the work to be seen again, appreciated and reconsidered," he says. "My uncle would have been happy, and that makes me happy." - Emily Young

 

Edward Biberman Painter Gallery Z

 
 
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