Norman Bluhm

American abstract painter Norman Bluhm was born into a Polish-Russian Jewish family in Chicago in 1921. He studied architecture with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Armour (now Illinois) Institute of Technology for three years before enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps in 1941. During World War II, Bluhm was a B-26 pilot who flew missions all across Europe and North Africa. Both Bluhm's architectural training and experience as an aviator would later influence his creative practice in terms of his sense of structure and movement.

Bluhm returned to Chicago temporarily in 1947 and committed to becoming an artist, which led him to study at both the Academia de Belle Arte in Florence and the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. From 1948 to 1956, Bluhm lived and painted in Paris, where he met Alberto Giacometti. Bluhm also developed relationships with other artists interested, like himself, in Abstract Expressionism, including Joan Mitchell, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Sam Francis, and Zao Wou-ki. In 1956, Bluhm moved to New York City. After an earlier marriage to Claude Souvrain, Bluhm married Carolyn Ogle in 1961. The couple lived in the city until 1969, but they subsequently opted to raise their two children in Upstate New York, on Long Island, and in Vermont, where Bluhm died in 1999.

One of Abstract Expressionism's so-called "second generation" of painters, Bluhm certainly drew inspiration from his predecessors Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, who sought to move away from the mimetic obligation long imposed on artists and liberate compositions from narrative contexts. And yet Bluhm was also an action painter who endeavored to make his finished works reflections of the physicality that went into their production as well as his psychological and emotional state at the time. Although Bluhm's style adapted throughout his career, he was steeped in art history and his paintings are replete with rich gestures. Unwilling to embrace any part of the ascendant Pop sensibility during the 1960s, Bluhm made several abstract paintings that paired with poetic works by his close friend Frank O'Hara and his palette grew more vibrant and varied. Despite not receiving the acclaim of contemporaries Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland, Bluhm's saturated colors and layered splatters and drips in his later work evince an inimitable, organic vision.

Posthumously, Bluhm's oeuvre has been elevated through various critical reassessments and retrospectives. The Station Museum of Contemporary Art in Houston held a significant Bluhm exhibit in 2007 and the Newark Museum held an expansive show in 2020, which was accompanied by a catalog with new essays and a republished interview of Bluhm. Likewise, Bluhm has seen increased interest among collectors in recent years and his works have garnered significant prices at auction as well. Christie's New York held a sale dedicated solely to Bluhm in 2015 with highlights from the 1960s through the 1980s. Today several institutions hold examples of paintings by Bluhm, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, and the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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