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Release: Oct. 6, 2000

Two artists from the 1950s will be featured in exhibitions at the UI Museum of Art

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Exhibitions of works by two overlooked artists who were prominent in the 1950s -- "Kenzo Okada: A Retrospective of the American Years 1950-1982" and "An American Sculptor: Seymour Lipton" -- will be presented simultaneously at the University of Iowa Museum of Art Oct. 21-Dec. 17.

Admission to both exhibitions, and to the museum, will be free.

The museum will celebrate the opening of these exhibitions with a reception at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, part of the museum’s ongoing series of free public events held on Friday evenings during the academic year. As part of the reception, Stephen Prokopoff, former director of the UI Museum of Art and curator of the Okada exhibition, will give a gallery tour of the exhibition at 6 p.m.

Pamela Trimpe, the museum’s curator of painting and sculpture, noted that "both of these artists have been overlooked until these current exhibitions. They both had significant artistic achievements in their own life times and then drifted into relative oblivion -- very unfairly. They are both excellent artists whose works are striking and original."

"Kenzo Okada: A Retrospective of the American Years 1950-1982," featuring 16 of Okada’s paintings, was organized at the Museum of Art. It will be the first exhibition in the United States of Okada’s paintings in more than 15 years.

Although little-known today, during the 1950s Okada was considered a peer of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem De Kooning. His work was shown at the prominent Betty Parsons Gallery from 1953 through 1978. Joining the artistic traditions of Japan with Western Modernism, his art is considered an example of "artistic migration," falling halfway between Japanese and American styles. In 1955, Okada was the featured American artist in the Sao Paulo Bienal and, in 1958, he was the Japanese representative in the Venice Biennial.

Okada was born in 1902 in Yokohama City, Japan, the son of a successful industrialist. At the time, Western Modernism was a powerful influence on Japan's visual arts and literature. Okada grew up in a cultivated domestic environment where he was exposed to the currents of change sweeping through Japanese life.

He studied briefly at the Tokyo Fine Arts University, a school with a conservative curriculum, before deciding that traditional studies were irrelevant in a changing artistic environment. He was among the first wave of hopeful students from Japan that moved to Paris at the end of 1924. After three years he settled in Tokyo, where he continued to paint and to participate actively in Japanese artistic life.

After World War II he sought artistic freedom in New York City, where he soon became acquainted with artists working in an abstract idiom. He became a U.S. citizen in 1960, but in the final years of his life he split his time evenly between New York and Tokyo. He died in 1982.

"The remarkable force of Okada's art was to join the sensibility and traditions of the art of Japan with the dynamism and innovation of the West," Prokopoff wrote for the exhibition catalogue. "Okada’s work achieves the difficult task of eliding the seeming spiritual contradictions of East and West. His effort resonates with the multicultural striving that affects much of today’s art."

"An American Sculptor: Seymour Lipton," featuring 34 sculptures, 16 maquettes and 33 drawings, was organized by the Palmer Museum of Art of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Penn., and the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Tex.

Probably no other American sculptor was more widely collected in the three decades after World War II than Seymour Lipton. Lipton grew up in a strong and supportive Jewish family in New York City. He was interested in art as an adolescent, but his parents encouraged him to study electrical engineering. After college he pursued dentistry as a career and established a successful dental practice in New York City.

By 1932 Lipton had embarked upon "a period of intense self-training in sculpture," working primarily in carved wood. For nearly two decades he experimented with various techniques and materials. As he refined his artistic ideology, Lipton's sculptures became more abstract and by the late-1940s, he had selected metal as his favored medium.

Lipton retired from dentistry in 1955, devoting himself full-time to his sculpture. He rejected traditional carving techniques and employed modern tools and materials for his sculpture. Using an oxyacetylene torch -- perfected during World War II -- Lipton developed an unprecedented technique of brazing nickel-silver rods onto sheets of metal, resulting in a rust-proof, highly textured surface. Although he did not join them socially, Lipton's sculptural themes and artistic concerns place him firmly within the circle of the Abstract Expressionists. Three major themes are evident in Lipton's sculpture and serve as the focus for this exhibition: avian imagery and flight, nature, and the concept of the hero.

"Kenzo Okada: A Retrospective of the American Years 1950-1982" was made possible with grants from the Judith Rothschild Foundation, the Dedalus Foundation, the Japan Foundation and Nippon Life Insurance Company.

M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art, Inc. of Iowa City is the corporate sponsor for events at the UI Museum of Art during the 2000-2001 season, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

For information on the UI Museum of Art, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/uima on the World Wide Web. Information is available on other UI arts events at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa.

The UI Museum of Art, located on North Riverside Drive in Iowa City, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Public metered parking is available in UI parking lots across from the museum on Riverside Drive and just north of the museum.