Modernist American painter’s works are on display after decades of seclusion.
For decades, American artist Walter Quirt used art as a vehicle to express his political and social views—from denouncing social injustices against African Americans and the exploitation of workers through the 1930s, to channeling his anger about WWII through his paintings in the 1940s. Quirt was active in New York during this time and was considered a prominent social realist, pioneering American surrealist and proto-abstract expressionist. His work, which continued through the mid-1960s, was exhibited alongside artists such as Jackson Pollock, Stuart Davis, Romare Bearden and just about every other major 20th century artist of that time.
Quirt’s works once graced the walls of the Guggenheim and the Art Institute of Chicago; to this day, they can be found in the permanent collections of many major museums, including The Whitney, MoMa, Smithsonian, SFMOMA and the De Young Museum. But after his death in 1968, his widow, Eleanor, refused to sell any of his work for fear of letting the last of him go. Instead, she housed the entire estate in a temperature- and humidity-controlled space at the University of Minnesota, where he taught. The works remained there, untouched, until her death in 2009. In 2014, the estate was rediscovered, bringing this piece of 20th century art history back to light.
Since 2015 there have been three Quirt exhibitions, during which two pieces were placed in the De Young collection. His art is also on display and offered for sale at San Francisco’s CK Contemporary gallery. Figures in Motion, through Oct. 12, is the first exhibition to focus specifically on the midcentury work of Quirt, according to gallery director and partner, Lauren Ellis, with a compelling collection of never-before-seen oil paintings and works on paper. The gallery will retain some of his work for display indefinitely.
“This is one of those incredibly rare opportunities that one can usually only dream of,” says Ellis. “The excitement in the gallery is palpable.”