What I want is depth compressed to the surface.

Mercedes Matter

A Dedication to Art and Artists

The Life of Mercedes Matter

Artistic expression was a constant in the life of Mercedes Matter. She was born in Philadelphia in 1913 to parents, Mercedes de Cordoba, a well-known model in the Photo-Secession movement, and Arthur B. Carles, the American painter who studied under Matisse in Paris. Matter took to painting at an early age, encouraged by her father and influenced by the family’s circle as they travelled through France and Italy. She returned to the United States for college and quickly found herself immersed in the energetic New York art scene that included Jackson Pollack, Lee Krasner, Philip Guston, Arshile Gorky and her soon to be husband, the photographer and designer Herbert Matter. It was Hans Hofmann though, who would prove to have the most significant impact on her future career. Through his tutelage, Matter embraced concepts from the abstract expressionist movement and merged them with the French figural tradition to create unique compositions in which her original object of focus was made almost unrecognizable through her abstraction of it. Canvases with large empty spaces punctuated by vibrant and expressive shapes and colors became her signature and while these works gained her significant recognition as a prominent artist of the era, it was her subsequent teaching career, also heavily shaped by Hofmann, that became her legacy.

Mercedes Matter with students at the New York Studio School. Photo: Herbert Matter, courtesy Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

In 1953, after returning from California during the years of WWII, Matter took up teaching posts at New York University, The Pratt Institute and the Philadelphia Art Institute. Over the course of her tenure at the schools, she watched as the curriculums moved away from the studio-centered education model, something that both she and Hofmann believed was crucial to a student’s education, in favor of an emphasis on accreditation courses. Matter pushed back against the trend but slowly became disillusioned, finally publishing an article in ARTnews titled, ‘What is Wrong with U.S. Art Schools’. The article became a rallying cry to both students and others in the industry who saw the importance of studio time and instruction by professional artists during these pivotal years in an artist’s development. 

A solution was realized when, in September of 1964, Matter opened the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. The school’s manifesto was signed by, among others, Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Barnett Newman, Isamu Noguchi and Mark Rothko and proclaimed that an art student’s education should imitate the life of a working artist. The school has stayed true to this credo through a progressive program led by faculty such as Philip Guston, Alex Katz, Milton Resnick and Meyer Schapiro, creating a space more in the tradition of an atelier than traditional American art school. For over five decades since its founding, The New York Studio School has provided a foundation to alumni such as David Reed, Christopher Wool and Joyce Pensato and continues to be a formative point in the advancement of artists today. 


The Preeminent Gallery for American Art

For more than fifty years, Spanierman Gallery cultivated a reputation as one of the country’s preeminent galleries dedicated to American Art. Founded by Ira Spanierman in 1961, the gallery initially offered a wide selection of material, including silver, arms and armor, Old Master, European and American art. Over time, Spanierman chose to focus exclusively on American art, a move that would establish the gallery as a tour-de-force in the field. Well-known for his outstanding ‘eye’ and dedication to connoisseurship, Spanierman was trusted by institutions and private collectors alike. The gallery was known to have sold to hundreds of museums across the United States and abroad while fostering the development of some of the country’s most prestigious private collections. 

In addition to its reputation as a dealer, Spanierman Gallery was esteemed in the industry for its dedication and support of art scholarship. As a young man starting off in the business, Ira Spanierman recalled researching and identifying paintings through tedious research at the Frick Art Reference Library. These hours of study left an indelible mark on Spanierman who would go on to publish catalogue raisonnés for artists such as Theodore Robinson, John Henry Twachtman, Willard Metcalf, and co-sponsor the catalogue on the work of Winslow Homer. 

When Spanierman Gallery closed in 2014 an impressive inventory remained. We are pleased to offer a selection of these works from the estates acquired by the gallery including those of Dora Maar, Solomon Ethe, Vaclav Vytlacil, John F. Carlson, Joseph Amar, James and Myron Lechay, Martha Walter, Mercedes Matter, Lamar Briggs, Sumiye Okoshi and Robert Emmett Owen.