Born New York City, 1903. Died New York City, 1974
Oil on canvas
48 x 36 inches
Collection Miami Art Museum, gift of Tina and Lee Hills
Credit line: Art © Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NYPhoto credit: Tim McAfee
Adolph Gottlieb was one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement which brought American art to international attention in the wake of World War II. In the 1940s, influenced by the arrival of European Surrealist artists in New York in the early years of the war, Gottlieb developed a pictographic style which featured grid-like compartments containing forms and symbols suggestive of archaic art.
Gottlieb sought to create work that remained free from intellectual control and appealed instead at an intuitive and emotional level. He believed that by studying archaic cultures he could devise his own symbolism that tapped into a universal unconscious that crossed cultural divides. He incorporated into his work forms inspired by art from African, South Pacific, and Native American cultures. Gottlieb believed this art had an "accessible spiritual content," in contrast to Western art that for centuries had been overly concerned with imitating the outward appearance of things. Rather than copying motifs directly, he painted according to the spontaneous dictates of his unconscious because he wanted his forms to act as symbols and retain a sense of mystery and uncertainty. Among the motifs found in Altar that appear in other Gottlieb pictographs are mask-like forms, concentric circles or spirals, an eye, an arrow and repeated abstract patterns.