Nearly 800 works by Theodore Roszak acquired by the Minneapolis Institute of Art


Theodore Roszak, “The Furies of Folly Cove” (1952), black ink and sepia and wash on paper, 38 × 60 in., Gift of the Estate of Theodore Roszak, Minneapolis Institute of Art (all images courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art)

The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) received as a donation 727 drawings, 63 prints and three photographs by the Polish-American artist Theodore Roszak, who is perhaps best known for his post-war shift from balanced geometric constructivism to jagged, cosmic biomorphism more aligned with surrealism. The nearly 800 works on paper, which were donated by artist’s daughter Sara Roszak, encompass stylistic changes over the artist’s long career: the works span from 1920, long before Roszak graduated from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 1980, a year before dying of heart failure at the age of 74.

Theodore Roszak, “Sammy” (1933), ink on paper, 12 1/4 x 9 1/2 in. (Gift of Theodore Roszak Estate, Minneapolis Institute of Art; © Estate of Theodore Roszak / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Human Rights Society, NY)

As a young artist in 1929, Roszak won an 18-month fellowship in Europe, where he was influenced by his exposure to Constructivism, Purism, and the Bauhaus, among other movements. Roszak’s subsequent return to New York was marked by his inclusion in the first two Whitney Annuals in 1933 and 1935; employment in a school of experimental design under the administration of the progress of the work; and a passage from figurative painting, which he had studied under Charles Hawthorne; to sculpture, in which he fused geometric abstraction with mechanical patterns using materials such as wood, plastic and wire. In the aftermath of WWII, however, Roszak turned to welded steel and began producing more expressionistic sculptures that drew on plants, animals, and literature, especially science fiction. . Frequently sharp, distorted, and menacing, Roszak’s postwar and late sculptures seemed to bear witness to a transformed image of humanity.

Although he is best known for his sculpture, Roszak drew throughout his life, usually several hours a day. In the early years of his career, the artist was particularly occupied with portraiture, as evidenced by one of the strong points of the acquisition, a portrait in colored ink with cubist accents entitled “Sammy” (1933). Constructivist or mechanical sketches were also prevalent in Roszak’s work during this time. Also noteworthy in the gift is a large work in black and sepia ink and wash entitled “The Furies of Folly Cove” (1952), a relative of a drawing of the same name in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Exploding with mysterious energy, “The Furies of Folly Cove” illustrates the dynamic cosmic scenes Roszak drew in the 1950s and 1960s. A later graphite and colored pencil drawing, “The Last Tycoon (Gulliver ) ”(1976), is representative of the lesser-known mature work of Roszak, which fuses surrealism with political satire and is of particular interest to the curator of Mia’s paintings, Robert Cozzolino, who facilitated the acquisition.

Theodore Roszak, “The Last Tycoon (Gulliver)” (1976), graphite and colored pencil, 44 x 66 1/2 in (Gift of the estate of Theodore Roszak, Minneapolis Institute of Art)

For Roszak, drawing was a gateway to the subconscious, as well as a way to reflect on forms that were sometimes realized in sculptures – as was probably the case for “Urban Construction”, an animated sculpture study and splash from the 1950s. included with purchase. “The drawings erase all the obstacles to conscious attitudes”, the artist explained in a 1956 interview with James Elliott. What he then translated into metal was not necessarily the foreground drawing; often it was based on the design which could be excavated from the background. “A lot of times that background design is the next sculpture that emerges from that design,” Roszak said. “It is a self-generated process by which, through one’s own efforts, one tries to scratch the depths of one’s psychic imagination.”

Prior to the donation, Mia had several Roszak pieces on long-term loan, but none in her permanent collection. With the donation, which includes works related to loans, Mia is now the primary institution for Roszak’s works on paper.

Theodore Roszak, “Urban Construction (sculpture study)” (ca. 1950), pen on paper, 12 1/2 x 19 in (Gift of the estate of Theodore Roszak, Minneapolis Institute of Art)

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