Ben Wilson: From Social Realism to Abstraction, on view at the George Segal Gallery at Montclair State University from September 6 through November 4, 2017, spans the career of the prolific 20th-century painter Ben Wilson. The unprecedented exhibit will feature 46 representative works to illustrate Wilson’s stylistic evolution from social realism to abstraction. Curator Jason Rosenfeld has chosen paintings from the University’s private collection of more than 200 core works by the New Jersey artist, generously gifted from his estate to the University by the Ben and Evelyn Wilson Foundation.
“With the gift of a substantial portion of his complete body of work, Montclair State has been entrusted with safeguarding the legacy of Ben Wilson,” says College of the Arts Dean Daniel Gurskis. “We are both pleased and proud to be the first to present an exhibition showcasing significant works from the whole of Ben Wilson’s career, beginning with his early socially aware figural pieces through his later geometric abstractions.”
Like many other painters of his generation, including Mark Rothko and Willem De Kooning, Wilson began his career as a WPA artist. During the 1930s and 1940s, he depicted the era’s violence and strife – from the Spanish Civil War to the Holocaust – in powerful works of social realism. While Wilson exhibited in group shows at the Brooklyn Museum and A.C.A. Gallery in the 1930s, he had the first of many one-man shows in 1946 at New York’s Galerie Neuf. His work is represented in numerous collections, including those at MIT, Brandeis, Princeton and Rutgers universities, as well as the Newark Museum of Art.
During the 1950s, Wilson began to abandon the figure and embrace abstraction. Over the next decade, as he developed a distinctly personal and expressive style, Wilson entered his fully mature period.
“The breadth of the work on display in Ben Wilson: From Social Realism to Abstraction not only reflects the arc of modern art in the 20th century, but also reveals an aesthetic that boldly transcends artistic movements and critical trends,” says Gurskis.
Wilson maintained a lifelong commitment to education and shared his art with his community, through exhibits, and relationships with educational institutions, libraries and Jewish community groups. The recent gift of artworks and archival materials from the Wilson Estate to Montclair State – the largest art gift ever made to the University – fulfills his wish to connect his art with a local public. “Ben Wilson is among the artists – George Segal, Will Barnet, Wolf Kahn, Tony Smith, Henry Gasser, and French surrealists Andre Masson, Max Ernst and Man Ray – who found homes and refuge in New Jersey,” says Teresa Lapid Rodriguez, George Segal Galleries and University Art Galleries Director and Curator. “I hope this exhibition enlightens a community beyond the State of New Jersey about Ben Wilson as an artist with a unique vision.”
Ben Wilson: From Social Realism to Abstraction marks the beginning of a period of rediscovery. “Over time, as more and more people are exposed to the singular work of this outstanding artist, I am confident that he will gain the recognition long due him,” says Gurskis.
Please visit benwilsonartist.org to learn more about the exhibit and related events, including “Reassessing America Abstraction: The Art of Ben Wilson,” an October 14 panel discussion moderated by exhibit curator Jason Rosenfeld, distinguished chair and Marymount Manhattan College professor of Art History.