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Arts & Entertainment - Society & Culture

Gershon Benjamin: Modern Master at the Rincliffe Gallery

April 17, 2015

"Spring Landscape #5 (Mont Royal, Montreal)" by Gershon Benjamin, 1947, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches.
"Spring Landscape #5 (Mont Royal, Montreal)" by Gershon Benjamin, 1947, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches. Private Collection.

A special exhibition of the work of American modernist Gershon Benjamin (1899–1985) is on view now in the Rincliffe Gallery on the third floor of the Main Building.

The exhibition features more than 60 works — including portraits, still lifes, landscapes and city scenes in oil, watercolor and charcoal —representing seven decades of work by this prolific 20th-century artist.

The Romanian-born, Montreal-educated Benjamin arrived in New York City in the 1920s, where he soon befriended a group of progressive artists who favored European modernism to the popular American Scene and Regionalist art of the day. Milton Avery was a member of this group, and he and Benjamin became close and life-long friends. Their circle included Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Arshile Gorky, John Sloan and the Soyer brothers, among others. They challenged the idea that art should cater to the masses or carry an explicit message. Rather, Benjamin and his coterie thought art should express an abstract idea, that it should be international and universal, conveying feeling rather than doctrine. As many of these artists were represented by the same dealers and exhibited together, they were labeled Expressionists and praised for their individualistic style and use of color.

"The Fedora Hat" by Gershon Benjamin, 1945, oil on canvas, 37 x 31 inches. Collection of Robyn and Chuck Citrin.
"The Fedora Hat" by Gershon Benjamin, 1945, oil on canvas, 37 x 31 inches. Collection of Robyn and Chuck Citrin.

While many of his fellow artists embraced abstraction, Benjamin continued to paint only what he loved (and held a full-time position as an art director at The New York Sun). He excelled at capturing the underlying feeling of a place or the emotional life of a sitter. He did precisely what he had advocated throughout his life: He worked out of an internal necessity rather than a desire to sell. Consequently, his colleagues achieved greater recognition.

This exhibition is brought to Drexel by College of Engineering alumna Joan Facey ’58, who grew up knowing Benjamin and his wife and later became the custodian of Benjamin’s artwork. Now chair of the Gershon Benjamin Foundation, Facey wanted to make the collection available to the Drexel community, especially to the students. It is her hope that the artwork will soothe, renew and inspire them as they pursue their education and launch their careers — just as she was rejuvenated by her visits to the A.J. Drexel Picture Gallery when she was a young student engineer in the ’50s.

“I hope it might introduce some people to a kind of art they aren’t familiar with and encourage them to appreciate art in a larger sense,” Facey said. “On a personal level, I hope they would gain appreciation for this great artist. I think 200 years from now, the name Benjamin will be known as well as we know Van Gogh today.”

"Brooklyn Bridge at Dawn" by Gershon Benjamin, ca. 1968, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. The Gershon Benjamin Foundation.
"Brooklyn Bridge at Dawn" by Gershon Benjamin, ca. 1968, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches. The Gershon Benjamin Foundation.

The exhibition opens on Alumni weekend starting April 27 and will run through August 7. The Rincliffe Gallery is on the third floor of Main Building at 3141 Chestnut St. The gallery is open and free to the public from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"Irises" by Gershon Benjamin, 1967, oil on canvas, 36 x 28 inches. The Gershon Benjamin Foundation.
"Irises" by Gershon Benjamin, 1967, oil on canvas, 36 x 28 inches. The Gershon Benjamin Foundation.

A catalog of the exhibit — designed by the student-run design agency Drexel’s Graphic Group — will be available for purchase through the Gershon Benjamin Foundation or through the Gerald Peters Gallery in New York for $25. It includes an essay from Facey about her relationship with Benjamin and why she brought the exhibit to Drexel, as well as a a biographical essay on Benjamin composed by curator Gina Greer.

For more information, contact Lynn Clouser, assistant director, The Drexel Collection, 215.895.2414, lcc48@drexel.edu.

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