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Artist Bio: Howard Daum (1918-1988)

Joe Ramiro Garcia

Polish-born artist Howard Daum immigrated to the United States through Canada, and was settled with his mother in the Bronx by 1938. Through studies at the Art Students League (1940-42) and with Hans Hofmann (1944-45), he became associated with a group of painters including Will Barnet, Steve Wheeler, Peter Busa, Robert Barrell and others, who shared ideas about modernism and endeavored to create a distinctly American form of post-Cubist abstract art.


Incorporating Hofmann’s ideas on color, Surrealist and Native American art influences, and examples set by Josef Albers and other members of the American Abstract Artists group, they developed what became known as Indian Space Painting, a term coined by Daum to describe the work of these very urban, non-Indian, New York City-based painters. The Indian Space Painters were especially attracted to tribal art of the American Northwest Coast. Their brightly colored abstract paintings aimed to emulate the ideographic forms of Indian art, which they saw as symbols of elemental, universal forces, as well as the Northwest tribal art’s distinctive characteristics of flat space, all over design, interlocking (not overlapping) shapes, and dynamic patterns transcending figure-ground distinctions.


The Indian Space Painters exhibited only once as a group – at New York’s Gallery Neuf in 1946 – one year prior to Jackson Pollock’s landmark exhibition at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery. Briefly gaining the attention of eminent and powerful critic Clement Greenberg, they were soon eclipsed by the rising star of Abstract Expressionism, which Greenberg especially championed. After falling into obscurity in the 1950s they were “rediscovered” in the 1990s and are now regarded as revolutionary artists whose innovations could be regarded as the “missing link” – the bridge to Abstract Expressionism.

Daum developed a distinctive style apart from other members of the Indian Space Painters group. In Daum’s work, more than the others’, one sees a playful exuberance reminiscent of the art of Paul Klee and Joan Miró. Though not as well known as Will Barnet, who went on to become a figurative painter, or Steve Wheeler, who eschewed the label of Indian Space Painting altogether, Daum is now one of the best regarded members of the group. Prominent collections holding his work include the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; the Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.


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