Frelinghuysen Morris House Museum pairs Modern artists in Lenox


LENOX -- Kinney Frelinghuysen and Madalena Holtzman share a bond that's a privilege and a burden. Both are heirs to artists' estates.

Frelinghuysen is the nephew by marriage of George L.K. Morris (1905-1975), a founder of the American Abstract Artists group established in 1936 to promote nonobjective art. Holtzman is the daughter of Harry Holtzman (1912-1987), also an American Abstract Artists founder and, himself, heir to the famed Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), another early Modernist. She, with her sister and brother, oversees the legacies of their father and of Mondrian.

Frelinghuysen and Holtzman, who have known each other for years by reputation and through emails, finally met in person last winter at an exhibition of Harry Holtzman's work at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Conn.

They are further joined by their collaboration on a new exhibition, "Morris and Holtzman: Pioneers in American Modernism," showing nearly 30 of their forbearers' artworks on view through the summer at the Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio.

The show aims to evoke a visual conversation between the two artists, envisioning what paintings they might have shown each other in pursuing their artistic interests.

Through it, Holtzman and Frelinghuysen said, they hope to draw attention to relationships within the American Abstract Artists group that the wider art world has neglected. For instance, Holtzman said art historians seldom mention her father's long friendship with Mondrian and his role in bringing him to the United States at the outbreak of World War II.

She and her sister, Jackie, who live, respectively, in Clinton and Waterford, Conn., joined Frelinghuysen and The Eagle for an interview in Lenox shortly after the show opened. They talked about the particular problems and unique perspectives they share as heirs nurturing the legacies of well-known and not-so-well-known artists.

Frelinghuysen is in the more enviable position in that his aunt, Suzy Frelinghuysen, and his uncle were rich, old line New Yorkers who left a substantial endowment for their nephew to work with. The Holtzmans, whose father taught art at Brooklyn College, have more modest resources and pay expenses out of pocket.

Madalena Holtzman joked that instead of having her father's artworks professionally packed and shipped to Lenox, she drove them up in the back of her car.

Still, they found common ground in an art world they view as money-driven and self-interested, with agendas that leave little room for the rich personal perspectives heirs can offer.

"We're about the legacy, not about the money," Holtzman said.

They complained of art scholars interested only in advancing their points of view, of libraries that shelve significant archival material to gather dust, of galleries fixated on the bottom line, of media pursuing the next trend, of the public's short attention span.

"It's a huge challenge," Frelinghuysen said, to overcome contemporary culture's impulse to quickly categorize and move on, ignoring the complex nuances of artistic relationships.

The exhibition, he said, "is about not sizing up these artists, but about letting [viewers] experience who they were as people. We don't want to tell [viewers] what to think."

He explained that as heirs, he and Holtzman "had an intuitive feel, so we did the show with our feelings and awareness of the artists."

Rather than hang the artworks chronologically or put the Morrises on one wall and the Holtzmans on the other, he said, they let intuition guide the arrangement and their choices.

"It was almost as if the paintings were talking to us," Holtzman said.

Mondrian, whose work is not in the exhibition, originated a form of Modern art called "Neo-Plasticism" that sought a kind of spiritual balance through arrangements of vertical and horizontal lines and blocks of pure color on white canvases. His approach influenced Morris and Holtzman, who met him in Paris in the 1930s.

Holtzman sustained a long friendship with Mondrian, helping him to immigrate to the United States in 1940 and sheltering him at property he owned in Great Barrington. Holtzman's work is more painterly, looser and colorful than Morris', showing clearer affinities with and departures (several sculptures) from that of the Dutch master. Morris, on the other hand, displays more in the exhibition of his early Cubist leanings with darker colors, complex patterns and references to nature.

Although Morris and Holtzman differ in approach, they were working through some of the same artistic issues and the interplay between the two in the cool white light of Morris former studio is lively and congenial.

It is the kind of visual "conversation" that Holtzman and Frelinghuysen suggest the art world needs more of.

If you go ...

What: 'Pioneers of Modernism,' artworks by George L.K. Morris and Harry Holtzman.

Where: Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio, 92 Hawthorne St., Lenox

When: Through Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays; Labor Day through Columbus Day, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

Admission: Adults, $15; seniors, $14; students with ID, $7.50; children under 12, free.

Information: (413) 637-0166;


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