CK Contemporary

Walter Quirt

“One peculiarity of art is that once it is contained within a painting it lives eternally, so that we today can respond without diminished vigor to masterpieces of the past as well as to contemporary painting.”

(American, 1902 – 1968)

A prominent American Surrealist, Walter Quirt (1902-1968) established innovative methods of painting while remaining resolute in his ideals, asserting the importance of art within society. Born in 1902 in rural Michigan, Quirt moved to New York City in 1929 where he became an active member of numerous radical artists groups, such as the John Reed Club. He worked as a muralist in the WPA and as his style evolved, he became acquainted with many of the Surrealists who had fled Nazi-Occupied Paris. In 1936, Quirt became the first American to have a solo show at the Julien Levy Gallery, solidifying his position in the art world as a cutting-edge American Surrealist. While working in New York, Quirt made many connections to artists who were challenging the status quo. He became close friends with Staurt Davis, and collaborated with Romare Bearden and Jackson Pollock. In fact, in a 1999 MoMA publication about Jackson Pollock, Pepe Karmel wrote, “Quirt may be virtually forgotten today, but in 1944 he and Jackson Pollock seemed like promising young artists of comparable importance”. Currently, Walter Quirt’s artwork is in the permanent collection of many major museums, including the The Museum of Modern Art NY, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, the de Young Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Using a bold automatic painting style, Quirt’s artwork bridges the gap between socialist-realism, surrealism, and abstract expressionism. His style constantly evolved to capture what he called “the emotional and social tempo of society”. His Mid-Century artworks depict figures on the edge of abstraction, with striking colors and rhythmic brushstrokes that allow his compositions to each convey a unique emotional pitch. In 1947, Quirt moved to Minnesota to teach at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, a job he continued until the end of his life. After his death, his wife Eleanor kept the majority of his artwork in storage at the University of Minnesota, because she felt that showing it was “giving him away”. Currently, Quirt’s work is in excellent condition due to its careful storage at the University. His link between Pre- and Post- War American Art remains significant today, and his expressive, dynamic artwork continues to capture the mercurial pulse of society.