Maria Frank Abrams: Four Paintings

Maria Frank abrams


Reception, Thursday, August 12, 5-7pm
CoCA Belltown, 2721 First Ave (corner of First & Clay), Seattle, WA 98101
On View Every Day, 24 hours, July 17 - August 30, 2010

MARIA FRANK ABRAMS: FOUR PAINTINGS is an exhibition on the occasion of the publication of BURNING FOREST: THE ART OF MARIA FRANK ABRAMS. The long-time Mercer Island, Wash. resident, now 86, attended the University of Washington School of Art on a Hillel Foundation scholarship and arrived in Seattle three years after her release from a Nazi concentration camp in Germany in 1945. Born in Debrecen, Hungary, Abrams is an important part of postwar Northwest and American art history, won numerous awards, and had several important museum surveys of her work, including at the Seattle Art Museum and Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. Acclaimed for her beautiful landscape scenes of the Puget Sound area, Abrams has been overlooked as a transitional figure between the Northwest School (she studied privately with Tobey) and an emerging formalist modernism of the 1960s and 1970s. Developing her style over a period of years, she alternated between representational and abstract imagery and introduced photographic and collage elements into her later work. The four paintings Kangas has selected for the COCA exhibition present essential examples of her shifts from early and late imagery dealing with her experiences of the Holocaust and her attempts to suppress such memories through beautiful but often cloudy landscapes. In between, as the exhibit demonstrates, Abrams achieved a strict geometric style as well as moody scenes that may symbolize smoky skies in Poland and Germany filled with the detritus of the crematory ovens of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen where Abrams spent time as a prisoner and slave labor inmate.

MATTHEW KANGAS is a noted art critic who has written for Seattle Times, Argus, Seattle Sun, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Artforum, Art in America, Art-Guide Northwest, and Art Ltd., among many other publications. He has curated or juried over 40 exhibitions as well, including major art-historical surveys for SAFECO and Bumbershoot between 1983 and 2004. Three essay collections have been published in New York by Midmarch Arts Press and are available in bookstores and Kangas also organized a retrospective and wrote the accompanying book William Cumming: The Image of Consequence for the Frye Art Museum in 2005. He is a graduate of Reed College and Oxford University and lives in Seattle.


Maria Frank Abrams: Burning Forest is a crucial addition to the literature of modernism in America and its expression among European exiles such as Maria Frank Abrams (b. 1924) in Seattle during the mid-twentieth century. With a preface by Peter Selz and foreword by Holocaust expert Deborah E. Lipstadt, Matthew Kangas's new monograph deepens our vision of how Pacific Northwest art developed and flourished.

Emerging as an artist at exactly the same time German philosopher Theodor Adorno said creative and profound applications about the Holocaust were impossible, Maria Frank Abrams challenged such neo-shibboleths through material mastery, professional achievements, and the offer to Americans and others of the life-affirming vision conveyed through her art. Memory may be dark, but it is a key pathway to light in the art of Maria Frank Abrams.

In this lavishly illustrated study, art critic Matthew Kangas chronicles Abrams's evolution from adored child artist to Holocaust survivor to second-generation Northwest School artist and late-blooming geometric abstract painter. Drawing intensively upon the artist's interviews and oral histories, as well as family archives and photographs, Kangas makes the case for Abrams as an overlooked transitional figure in Pacific Northwest art: from "mystic" adherent to sophisticated, European-inspired modernist.

After her studies with Walter F. Isaacs at the University of Washington School of Art, Abrams was embraced by Mark Tobey, with whom she studied privately. Their collective influence shaped her destiny as an artist. Kangas restores the Hungarian cultural context of her development and fully documents the artist's harrowing early life in Hungary and her family's fate at Auschwitz in 1944.

He makes the case that over the years the artist's memories of World War II indirectly seeped into her art even as it was sometimes accompanied by brightly colored scenes of Northwest nature. Reappearing in her canvases, prints, drawings, murals, and examples of scenic design and public art, they are held in the rich qualities of her mature vision that fuses dark and light, dawn and sunset, sadness and joy.

CoCA serves the Pacific Northwest as a catalyst and forum for the advancement, development, and understanding of Contemporary Art

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