Carmen Cicero

BIOGRAPHY

Carmen Cicero was born in 1926 in Newark, NJ. He attended the local university starting in 1947 and later earned an MFA and taught at Montclair State University, NJ, 1970-2001. His career spans over six decades, originating from his solo exhibition at the historic Peridot Gallery, New York, where he exhibited abstract expressionist paintings through 1969. His early influence arose from studying under Hans Hofmann and Robert Motherwell at Hunter College, New York, along with inspiration from his circle of artists, poets, and jazz musicians. He is also an avid saxophonist with several original jazz compositions. In 1971, Cicero moved to the Bowery after a fire devastated his studio in Englewood, NJ and became familiar with the flophouses and homeless men which changed his style permanently.

Cicero’s artwork is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Harvard Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution, and Provincetown Art Association and Museum, MA. He is the recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and a Lifetime Achievement awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. 

ARTWORK

Carmen Cicero has re-emerged today as one of the most stimulating and innovative artists who was a major precursor to the neo-expressionist artists of the 1980s. Writing in 1982, Lowery Sims, then Associate Curator of 20th Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: “For Carmen Cicero, it has been a long patient wait for the rest of he world to catch up with him. He is not alone. One can think of several other artists—including Philip Guston—who left abstraction in the late 60s and began doing a “funky” figuration that is so much in vogue these days, and who were ridiculed until the art world finally modified its exclusive formalist point of view…The tactile, visceral surfaces that he shared with such contemporaries as a Leon Golub, have also survived in the recent paintings, effecting a nice bridge to the work of the current generation of figurative artists.”     


 

 
 

 

Cicero began his early career as a successful Abstract Expressionist and these works were collected by some of New York’s premier museums including the Museum of Modern Art, Guggenheim Museum and Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1957, Cicero had his first solo show at the Peridot Gallery, New York, showing with fellow artists Louise Bourgeois and Philip Guston. In the early 1960s, his canvases began to be populated with intense, expressionist figures. These works positioned him as one of the earliest figurative expressionist painters of his generation. Three of these early figurative expressionist pieces, dated 1962, were acquired by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Cicero arrived in New York in the early 1970s (his second residency in the city) after a devastating fire that destroyed his studio in Englewood, NJ. He lost the entire body of his work—mostly his figurative expressionist paintings. The artist began again in his new loft on the Bowery, which at the time was filled with flophouses and homeless men and was New York’s “Skid Row.” As stated by Sims, “The transition there from a more conventional and comfortable life in the suburbs to what was then the frontier of the downtown art world, certainly shaped the sardonic fatalism of his work…” 

After several false starts (including working as a hard-edge painter), the artist returned to figurative expressionism in the later 1970s and 1980s and produced a body of work that was well received both uptown on Madison Avenue and downtown during the heyday of the East Village art scene and positioned him as one of the precursors of neo-expressionism in New York City. In the early 1980s, he was featured in a solo show and participated in group exhibitions at the Gracie Mansion Gallery in the East Village along with younger neo-expressionists. 

The social content of Cicero’s works from the 1970s and 1980s—tackling such subjects as race, crime, battle of the sexes and feminism—reveal that he was aware of themes in American culture then, which are profoundly significant today. Sims spoke of his work as “combative and rebellious, and defiant in its unrepentant exposure of the raw emotion that lies just beneath the veneer of civilization.”  Artists such as Red Grooms and Robert Colescott admired Cicero’s work. Colescott, who also explored themes like sex and race, believed as artists they shared an attitude toward social matters, which was both serious and satirical. Cicero’s work was reviewed by critics such as Grace Glueck, Donald Kuspit, Nicholas Moufarrege, Roberta Smith, and John Russell, who wrote in 1984: 

Living on the Bowery, Cicero takes late-night subjects that are both rough and raw—death hailing a cab, a young man fleeing in terror from an invisible enemy on the waterfront, or his near-double running for dear life from a burning city in which even the flagstones are red hot. Others have had hideous fancies of the same kind, but Cicero’s paintings have an educated presence. We see at once that he is a true painter, and one who has labored hard and long for his effects of spontaneity. From Currier and Ives to Milton Avery, and from the comic strip to German Expressionism, this former pupil of Robert Motherwell lives with learning lightly borne. 

More recently (2015), Roberta Smith reviewed a show of Cicero’s expressionist pieces from the 1970s and 1980s:

A disastrous studio fire in 1971 seems to have turned Mr. Cicero toward his own comical version of neo-Expressionism figuration, a vibrant, sometimes visionary style enlivened by vigorous brushwork, radiant color and a sense of high drama. The earliest work here is “Crime” from 1976, which features a blizzard of short rapid brush strokes — a kind of parody of Abstract Expressionism — that, with study, reveals a tough guy firing a gun in the viewer’s direction. It is like an American-gangster version of the thick-limbed young men for which the Italian artist Sandro Chia became known. More accomplished is “The Surprise at the Window,” from 1981, in which a ghostly Count Dracula scares the wits, cigarettes and martinis out of a bunch of soigné Hollywood silent-film types standing in a wood cabin — or on a stage — alive with light and shadow. The generally white-on-white “Nightmare” (1986), which depicts a madman in a frozen landscape dotted with faces has some wonderful moments, while the relatively small “Man With Mask” (1987) contrasts a green hat and a vivid orange mask. It is in many ways a perfect painting that some museum should add to its Cicero holdings. 

Text by Mary Abell.

 


 

EXHIBITION HISTORY

SOLO EXHIBITIONS


2018 - Battle of the Sexes 1965-1982, June Kelly Gallery, New York
2015 - Carmen Cicero: Early Works: 1970s-1980s, June Kelly Gallery, New York
2012 - Visionary Paintings, June Kelly Gallery, New York 
2012 - Carmen Cicero: The Visionary Work, curated by William Evaul, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, MA
2010 - Carmen Cicero: Watercolors, The Shore Gallery, Provincetown, MA 
2010 - In the Still of the Night: New Paintings, June Kelly Gallery, New York
2007 - Things That Happen In the Moonlight: Watercolors, June Kelly Gallery; catalogue
2004 - New Paintings, June Kelly Gallery, New York; catalogue
2001 - Recent Work, June Kelly Gallery, New York
2000 - Carmen Cicero: A Survey of Paintings, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, MA; catalogue
2000 - Carmen Cicero: Watercolors, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1998 - Recent Paintings, June Kelly Gallery, New York
1998 - Paintings and Watercolors, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1997 - Long Point Gallery, Provincetown, MA
1995 - Paintings and Watercolors, June Kelly Gallery, New York
1993 - New Paintings, June Kelly Gallery, New York
1991 - Montclair State College Art Gallery, Montclair, NJ
1990 - Paintings and Watercolors, June Kelly Gallery, New York
1988 - Paintings, Graham Modern Gallery, New York
1988 - Watercolors, June Kelly Gallery, New York
1987 - Watercolors and Sculpture, Graham Modern Gallery, New York
1986 - Cherrystone Gallery, Wellfleet, MA
1985 - Recent Paintings, Graham Modern Gallery, New York
1984 - Paintings and Drawings, 1975-1984, Graham Modern Gallery, New York
1983 - Art Academy, Museum of Cincinnati, OH
1982 - Gracie Mansion Gallery, New York
1979 - Gurewitsch Gallery, New York
1978 - Dubins Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
1976 - Caldwell College, Caldwell, NJ
1975 - Leslie Rankow Gallery, New York
1972 - Simone Stern Gallery, New Orleans, LA
1970 - Wellfleet Art Gallery, Cape Cod, MA and Palm Beach, FL
1970 - Drawings and Serigraphs, New School for Social Research, NY
1968 - Peridot Gallery, New York
1968 - Galleri Promenade, Tromso, Norway
1967 - Galerie Puntvier, Rotterdam, Holland
1966 - Drawings & Gouaches, American Gallery, NY
1957 - Peridot Gallery, New York

SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

 

2019 - Artists on the Bowery, Part 1: Carmen Cicero and Alan Steele, WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC, New York

2017 - Celebrating 30 Years, Gallery Artists: Drawing and Photography, June Kelly Gallery, New York
2012 - Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960, Solomon R.
2012 - Guggenheim Museum; travelled to the Cobra Museum of Modern Art, Amstelveen, Netherlands; catalogue
2012 - Art of Another Kind: International Abstraction and the Guggenheim, 1949-1960, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; catalogue
2012 - Long Point: An Artists’ Place, curated by Mary E. Abell, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, MA; catalogue
2012 - Celebrating 25 Years, June Kelly Gallery, New York
2009 - Hidden Gems: Works on Paper, June Kelly Gallery, New York
2007 - THE 182ND ANNUAL EXHIBITION OF CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN ART, National Academy Museum, New York; catalogue
2006 - The Figure in American Painting and Drawing 1985-2005, Ogunquit Museum of American Art, ME; brochure
2005 - 180th Annual Exhibition, National Academy Museum, New York
2005 - Art Chicago In The Park, Chicago, IL
2004 - Art Dealers Association of America, 69th Street Armory, New York
2004 - Art Chicago At The Pier, Chicago, IL
2001 - Many Moons, curated by Barbara J. Bloemink, Hammond Museum & Japanese Stroll Garden, North Salem, NY
1998 - Long Point Gallery at Fine Art Work Center, Hudson D. Walker Gallery, MA
1998 - A Tribute to Long Point Gallery, Cape Museum of Fine Arts, Dennis, MA
1998 - A Salute to the Long Point Gallery, Nardin Gallery, New York
1998 - Long Point Gallery at Provincetown Art Association and Museum, MA 
1998 - Contemporary Selections from The National Academy at Silvermine, New Silvermine Guild Galleries, New Canaan, CT
1997 - The Artist’s Eye: Will Barnet Selects Portraits from the Permanent Collection, National Academy Museum, New York
1997 - Our Century: Selections,” Housatonic Museum of Art, The Burt Chernow Galleries, Bridgeport, CT
1997 - 20th Anniversary Exhibition, The Long Point Gallery, Provincetown, MA
1997 - American Academy Invitational Exhibition of Painting & Sculpture, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York

 

SELECTED COLLECTIONS


Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY
Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, MA
George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Springfield, MA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC 
National Academy of Design Museum, New York
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY
Newark Museum, Newark, NJ 
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, NJ
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Montclair Art Museum, NJ
The Museum of Modern Art, New York 
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA 
Herbert F. Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, CA 
The University of Michigan, Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI
Provincetown Art Association and Museum, MA 
Musei Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Holland
Jacobs, Visconsi & Jacobs, Cleveland, OH
La Mont Gallery, Exter Academy, NH
West Publishing Company, St. Paul, MN

 

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