Kurt Seligmann


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Painter, printmaker, and set designer. Born in Basel, Switzerland, he studied at art schools in Geneva and Florence before moving to Paris in 1929. After painting hard-edge abstractions early in his career, in the mid-1930s he gravitated toward surrealism. At this time he developed his characteristic, partially abstract figural style, often featuring wildly gyrating draperies. Creating effects of instability, fear, and pessimism, these works reflect disgust with the interwar political and military situation in Europe. He also made generally more serene sculptural objects. Particularly effective among these is a series of large bottlelike forms that sprout graceful human appendages. For several months in the summer of 1938, he lived in British Columbia in order to pursue ethnographic study of North American Indian art and life. After emigrating to the United States in 1939, he was naturalized as a citizen. In New York his controlled, image-based approach had little direct effect on the emerging abstract expressionist vanguard, but he established a significant presence as an accomplished artist and teacher, active in affairs of the progressive art community. Sharing his scholarly temperament, he became a close friend of Meyer Schapiro. In the early 1940s Seligmann's art became more cryptic, but no more optimistic, as it sometimes incorporated tornado-like forms moving through indeterminate landscapes. In his last years, he painted somber abstractions filled with stringy forms. A longtime student of the occult, in 1948 he published a classic study, The Mirror of Magic. In diminished health during his final years, he moved from New York to a farm at Sugar Loaf in the Catskills Mountains. He died outside his home there of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, which was officially ruled accidental.

Subjects: Art.

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