Catalog Essay | September 17, 2020 | Berry Collection
Assembled with great care of the past 30 years, the Jeanne and Carroll Berry Collection includes works by sixteen of the original “Irascible Eighteen.” The Berrys knew “advanced art” when they saw it and collected works by this leading group of Abstract Expressionist artists ahead of the trend.
In 1950, Adolph Gottlieb led an organized boycott against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “American Painting Today.” In a letter, drafted by Gottlieb, the undersigned artists rejected submission to the Metropolitan’s jurors on the grounds that the selection committee “does not warrant any hope that a just proportion of advanced art will be included.”
Eighteen painters and eleven sculptors signed the letter first published by the New York Times. The group caused a stir in the art world and beyond. The Tribune published the letter under the headline “The Irascible Eighteen,” giving the group their name. Life magazine contacted the artists to have their group portrait taken, a portrait that has become the defining image of the abstract expressionists for the remainder of the 20th century.
The artists of the New York School felt that the mainstream media was disinterested in their work and that New York museums were not giving Abstract Expressionism the credit it deserved. This may have been somewhat misguided as MoMA had been exhibiting their work and critic Clement Greenberg, an early champion of Abstract Expressionism, was writing prolifically at the time. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, however, never responded to the letter.
Despite what they perceived as a poor reception in the New York art scene, the Irascible 18 have become the leading names of American Modernism today. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko are to name a few of these now iconic artists.
Jeanne and Carroll Berry traveled between their home in Atlanta to New York City on numerous visits collecting art and collecting “stories.” The Berrys would bring their friends to dealers, lectures and exhibitions on Abstract Expressionism at a time when only a handful of people were collecting abstraction. On one such visit to New York, Mr. Berry found himself in the right place at the right time and was lucky enough to meet the youngest artist of the group, Theodoros Stamos.
On other occasions, the Berry’s corresponded with dealers, foundations and the artist’s family piecing together the story of New York at the time when these artists were working.They generously loaned from their collection for exhibition at the University of Georgia, Athens and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The collection the Berrys assembled is therefore a reflection of their exquisite taste but also a highly personal document of their depth of knowledge and their stories of getting to know this eclectic group of artists through their art.
It is always exciting for us to meet a consignor who is passionate about their collection and what it means to them. Mrs. Berry has not only been an inspiration to us, but has also become a friend. We are honored to offer her and her late husband Carroll’s collection for sale.