Alfonso Ossorio: Textured Abstraction

April 28, 2017

The Filipino American artist Alfonso Ossorio (1916–1990) played a crucial role in fostering the development of postwar painting in America. Born in Manila to a wealthy family, he was educated in England and moved to the United States in 1930 to attend high school, then continued his education at Harvard and the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied fine art. Ossorio was a collector and early supporter of Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists like Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still. He and Pollock were close with the renowned French ‘Art Brut’ artist Jean Dubuffet, a friendship which proved to be influential on the work of all three men. This connection was explored in the 2013 exhibition “Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet” at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Alfonso Ossorio, Acrobatic Babies, 1950
May 21, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Ossorio was an accomplished and prolific painter in his own right but, in his lifetime, his artistic reputation was overshadowed by his prominence as a collector. However, in recent years his paintings have come to be reevaluated by critics and collectors, with their inclusion in the 2015 Whitney Museum of American Art inaugural exhibition “America is Hard to See,” as well as their acquisition by the Goldman Sachs Group for their corporate collection.

Acrobatic Babies (1950) is a compact and frenetic work on paper that embodies the strange and beguiling power of his extensive paintings. At first glance this tangle of white lines amid a wash of red and black looks to be an abstract image. However, on closer inspection, a pair of loosely-rendered cherubic figures can be seen. At this time Ossorio was transitioning from surrealist influences to abstract expressionism, with a tendency toward magical and mystical subjects. Ossorio’s work often featured rich, textured surfaces and his innovative cut and paste process was inspired by Dubuffet’s collage techniques. Executed in wax, ink, and watercolor on a piece of found stationary, this work exemplifies the artist’s assemblage-style approach. Acrobatic Babies was illustrated in Jean Dubuffet’s 1952 book on the artist, Peintures Initiatiques D’Alfonso Ossorio.

Lot Information:

Lot 269
Alfonso Ossorio
Acrobatic Babies
Ink, wax, and watercolor on torn Tiffany stationary paper
Retains Ossorio Foundation label and two Michael Rosenfeld Gallery labels verso
Sheet (irreg.): 11″ x 8.25″; Frame: 17.75″ x 15.25″
Together with exhibition catalogue, book, copy of invoice from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery dated March 31, 1999, and exhibition postcard announcement
Provenance: Estate of Alfonso Ossorio; Ossorio Foundation, Southampton, New York; Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, New York; Private Collection, Los Angeles, California (acquired directly from the above, March 31, 1999)
Exhibited: “Alfonso Ossorio: The Child Returns, 1950: Philippines, Expressionist Paintings on Paper,” November 5, 1997-January 9, 1999, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
Illustrated: Peintures Intiatiques D’Alfonso Ossorio. J. Dubuffet. 1951. Pl. 6.; Alfonso Ossorio: The Child Returns, 1950: Philippines, Expressionist Paintings on Paper. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery exh. cat. 1998. 20.
Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

Gruen, John. “Madness and Material.” New York Magazine 2 Dec. 1968: 54. Print.
“Michael Solomon on the Ossorio Foundation.” Artists’ Estates: Reputations in Trust. Ed. Magda Salvesen and Diane Cousineau. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005. 209. Print.

Leave a Reply