Joseph Glasco: The David Chesler Collection

November 2016 

In 1949 New York Joseph Glasco was a mid century modern painter at the beginning of the American modern art movement. Collected early in his career by major American museums, Glasco pursued his individual style, a figurative abstraction combined with a serene classicism that was visually monumental, graphically complex and refined. WOLFS is pleased to exhibit and offer for sale The David Chesler Collection: Works by Joseph Glasco, a personal group of works derived from a long and important friendship.


Photograph of Joseph Glasco

“Painting for me does not consist in something I have seen, but something I am. 
There is no ‘subject matter.’ My heads are perhaps landscapes and my landscapes heads.
They are interior thoughts that exist in my heart and mind and not in my eyes” - Joseph Glasco


In 1950 the Museum of Modern Art, New York purchased a drawing by Joseph Glasco which had been a part of a one man exhibit of his work at Perls Gallery in New York city. With this purchase Joseph Glasco became the youngest artist to have a work in the permanent collection of the museum. He had only arrived in New York one year earlier, in 1949. With works subsequently acquired by other major museums including the Metropolitan, the Guggenheim, the Whitney, the Hirshhorn and the Houston MFA among others, this was a very auspicious beginning for a young artist at the beginning of the modern movement. From the beginning Glasco was considered an important part of this movement and was an integral part of the scene.  The work of Joseph Glasco now deserves a long revisit.

Glasco’s career began at the very center of the new art world in New York in 1949, where he was a peripatetic collector of friends.   His intimate circle included Jackson Pollock, Alfonso Ossorio, Clyfford Still and Jean Dubuffet among others.  Pollock though, was, for Glasco, the most influential. During these early years as the young Glasco developed his personal style, he spent time with Pollock and Lee Krasner at their estate in East Hampton, which happened to coincide with the two years of Pollock’s sobriety between 1949-1951. Glasco respected Pollock and the straightforward manner and in which he communicated. As he stated in an interview done in 1995,  “I learned an awful lot, and awfully quickly, from this brilliant man who spoke very, very simply.”  In addition, Glasco was a very quick learner, and immersed himself in the New York museums, admiring 13th and 14thc. Italian artists, Ingres, Matisse and ancient Greece, with its myths and heroes.

From the many nightly discussions within this circle of artists, which often included art critic Clement Greenberg, Jackson Pollock’s major supporter, Glasco absorbed specific ideas about the the process of painting which he would carry with him throughout his career. While he greatly admired Pollock’s work, he was determined not to work in that style, but to find his own individual manner, and to do this he applied a self-mandated discipline.  Glasco’s work was therefore characterized by restrictiveness, rather than the freedom he thought Pollock must have felt when making a painting. Physically, Glasco worked in painstaking detail, using a single small brush and a laborious building up of surface texture.

Always a traveller after his time in the army in 1943, Glasco lived his life in various places. These travels kept him often outside of New York after 1952 and aided in the development of his work. Time spent in Mexico, Taos, Italy, Greece, Cleveland and Galveston, with brief touchdowns in New York allowed him to create and maintain his own idiom.  His studio environment reflected this. Wherever Glasco’s studio was, it was organized in the same way, with a canvas covered floor, white walls, and heavy velvet curtains blocking out the light and the world, allowing him to paint what was inside of him.  An early epiphany while studying at The Art Students League in New York seemed to solidify his thought process in regards to his work, as he wrote, “ I made a startling discovery . . . .it occurred to me one day as I was drawing that you really don’t have to look up at something and then try to repeat it on paper. That I could look over at a figure and back to the paper and record what I had remembered. I explored and found the surface of the paper and from then on it was a question of making the paper turn on, not the figure.” And as quoted in his artist’s statement for the exhibition Fifteen Americans, held at The Museum of Modern Art in 1952,  “Painting for me does not consist in something I have seen, but something I am. There is no “subject matter.’ My heads are perhaps landscapes and my landscapes heads. They are interior thoughts that exist in my heart and mind and not in my eyes.”

The David Chesler Collection consists largely of Glasco’s work during the period of the 1970’s when the two were together frequently and for longer periods of time. The works of this period are characterized by a monumentality of form, a complexity of surface and an intense focus on detail. While expressionist in form and figurative in style, each work is masterful in its control of the medium and the composition. Upon close inspection the very deliberate stokes of the ink loaded brush and the amazingly controlled splatters give each work an intense life, but upon viewing from further away, also a classical stillness. Under inspection and careful scrutiny it is becomes clear to the viewer that these works incorporate an enormous amount of minute detail and an incredible control of the surface. This was accomplished by that strict discipline and work ethic, consciously employed by the artist from his earliest work and as relayed by David Chesler, who stated that Glasco would paint and work, then sit and study and paint and work for hours on end on each piece.

The monumental heads, kissing figures, classical style reclining nudes, studio posed figures and still lifes are all a part of Glasco’s unique oeuvre; they are striking; arresting, and convey a timelessness and a beauty of their own. As critic Hilton Kramer commented in a review of a Glasco exhibit in 1970, “ Titles. . .give us a clue to the nature of his pictorial imagination. ‘Judgment of Paris,’ ‘Orestes,’ ‘Three Graces,’ ‘Death of Ariadne,’ ‘Narcissus,’ –such titles alert us to a pictorial sensibility immersed in the realm of mythic images. . . .and each of his pictures therefore has the quality of a discrete poetic conception. Each has a wonderful resonance as well as a compelling visual presence. “

We are happy to be able to exhibit this wonderful collection and to see again an artist who not only created beautiful works of art, but also is a part of the art history of 20th century America.