February 16, 2020


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Lot 77: Lester Johnson

Lot 77: Lester Johnson


Oil on canvas
Signed "Lester" lower right; retains Holland-Goldowsky Gallery label verso
Canvas: 32" x 32"; Frame: 34" x 34"; (Canvas: 81 x 81 cm)
Estimate: $3,000 - $5,000
Price Realized: $2,500
Inventory Id: 34113

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A descendant of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Lester Johnson (1919–2010) is best known for his monochromatic male silhouettes and renderings of crowded urban spaces, which have been affectionately described as “the poetry of congestion.” Johnson, who was born in Minneapolis in 1919, commenced his artistic career at the Cosmopolitan Art Company, making frames and copying landscapes for calendars. Following this apprenticeship, the young artist attended the Minneapolis School of Art but transferred to the St. Paul School of Art when his mentor was ousted by the faculty. He completed his education at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and moved to New York in 1947. At this time Johnson worked primarily with landscapes and abstractions, but an Alberto Giacometti exhibition in 1948 inspired what would become his signature figurative forms. Johnson was quick to gain attention from fellow abstractionists when he held his first solo show in 1951. By the mid-1950s Johnson had committed fully to the human figure and was among the few figurative artists admitted into the Eighth Street Club. With epoch-defining founding members such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, “the Club,” as it was also known, offered Johnson’s work a public stamp of approval at a time when figurative representation had fallen out of critical relevance.

Johnson’s thematic and formal situation between the interiority of the Abstract Expressionists and the cultural obsessions of the Pop artists has unfortunately allowed his work to slip through the cracks of popular consideration. Nevertheless, the enduring strength of his images is demonstrated by his extensive exhibition history, which has included twelve posthumous exhibitions to date. Johnson’s works are currently held in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among many others.

Grimes, William. “Lester Johnson, Expressionist Painter, Dies at 91.” The New York Times, 9 June 2010, p. A23.
Yau, John. “Lester Johnson's Last Paintings.” Hyperallergic, 15 Nov. 2011, hyperallergic.com/40449/lester-johnson-last-paintings/.
“Biography.” Lester Johnson, lesterjohnson.net/about/bio/.
“Curriculum Vitae.” Lester Johnson, lesterjohnson.net/about/exhibitions/.