Ben Culwell

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Ben Culwell

BEN CULWELL (1918-1992)

Ben Culwell was born in 1918 in San Antonio, Texas. He spent most of his early life in Houston and resolved to pursue an artistic career. His family relocated to New York in 1936, allowing him to enroll in Columbia University. Though officially pursuing a degree in business administration, he took a number of art courses and studied under Walter Pach, one of the champions of European Modernist art and the chief architect of the landmark 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, otherwise known as the Armory Show. While at Columbia, Culwell took full advantage of his New York environment, attending seminal Dada, Surrealist, and Cubist exhibitions and forming relationships with representatives of America’s avant-garde. Though Culwell was charmed by New York, he was unwilling to wholly immerse himself in the city and its art scene. He was troubled by the affected bohemianism he encountered and, on the urging of his father, returned to Texas to pursue a career in business.

Culwell continued to paint, though his distance and detachment from the New York art world prevented him from attaining the recognition he deserved. His work continued to be characterized by a confident, painterly handling of surface textures. He frequently buried images deep within layers of paint, forcing viewers to unearth meaning from within numberless strata of paint. Culwell’s experimentalism enabled him to anticipate stylistic devices often attributed to more recognizable artists; Culwell dripped paint before Pollock, employed sand before Tapies, and assimilated mirrors and glass into his work well in advance of Rauschenberg.

Culwell lived out his life largely in seclusion – after departing from New York in the 1940s he settled in Temple, Texas – but he was not wholly forgotten by the doyens of the art world and the critical community. He exhibited throughout Texas and saw his work included in a number of nationally-prominent institutions. 

Selected Biographical and Career Highlights

·       1918, Born in San Antonio, Texas

·       1934 Dallas Art Institute, Dallas, Texas 

·       1935-36 Southern Methodist University Dallas, Texas

·       1936-37 Columbia University, New York, New York

·       1940-41 Instructor, Texas Women’s University, Denton, Texas

·       1941-46 Served in U.S. Navy

·       1992 Died in Temple, Texas

 

Selected Prizes, Awards

·       Dallas Allied Arts: Cash Prize 1938, 1948 

·       1938 Cash Prize, Man With Soul Indigestion, watercolor         

·       1948 Cash Prize, Nocturnal, oil

·       Dallas County Painting, Drawing, Sculpture: Purchase Prize 1958

·       1958 Purchase Prize, Untitled, oil & lacquer

·       Texas Fine Arts: Purchase Prize 1959 

·       1959 Purchase Prize

 

Selected Exhibitions

·       1938 9th Annual Dallas Allied Art Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas (cash prize)

·       1938 1st No-Jury Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1939 Texas Paintings (State Fair), Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1940 11th Annual Dallas Allied Art Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1945 Ben Culwell: War Paintings, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Dallas, Texas

·       1946 17th Annual Dallas Allied Art Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1946 Fourteen Americans, Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

·       1947–49 18th-20th Annual Dallas Allied Art Exhibition, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas (cash prize 1948)

·       1950 12th Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture 1950-1951, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Witte Museum, San Antonio; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

·       1952 14th Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture 1952, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Witte Museum, San Antonio; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas 

·       1953 15th Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture 1953, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas

·       1954 16th Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture 1954, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Witte Museum, San Antonio; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Fort Worth Art Center, Fort Worth, Texas

·       1956 18th Annual Texas Painting and Sculpture Exhibition 1956-1957, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Witte Museum, San Antonio; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin; Museum, Texas Tech, Lubbock, Texas

·       1956 27th Annual Dallas County Exhibition: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1957 Survey of Painting in Texas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, circulated by American Federation of Arts (catalogue)

·       1957 28th Annual Dallas County Exhibition: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1957–58 Texas Fine Arts Association Annual Exhibition, shown at annual meeting of the Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin, Texas, meeting location varied each year

·       1958 From the Executive’s Easel, traveling exhibition

·       1958 29th Annual Dallas County Exhibition: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas (purchase prize)

·       1958 Annual Texas Artists Circuit Exhibition, selected from works shown at the annual meeting of the Texas Fine Arts Association, circulated to numerous venues

·       1958 Texas Oil ’58, A Salute to the Oil Industry of the State by Texas Painters, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, traveled to: Bank of the Southwest, Houston; Dallas Public Library, Dallas; Republic National Bank of Dallas, Texas (catalogue)

·       1959 30th Annual Dallas County Exhibition of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1959 Solo, San Antonio Men of Art Guild Gallery, San Antonio, Texas

·       1959 21st Annual Exhibition of Texas Painting and Sculpture 1959-1960, circulated: Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas; Witte Museum, San Antonio; Beaumont Art Museum, Beaumont; Museum, Texas Tech, Lubbock; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas 

·       1959 Solo, Artisan Gallery, Houston, Texas

·       1959 Made in Texas by Texans, Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art, Sheraton-Dallas Hotel, Dallas, Texas (catalogue)

·       1959 D. D. Feldman Competitive Award Exhibit: The Contemporary Work of 82 Texas Artists, traveled (When) checklist

·       1959 Solo, Dallas-Fort Worth Men of Art Guild Gallery

·       1959 Texas Fine Arts Association Annual Exhibition, Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin, Texas (purchase prize)

·       1960 31st Annual Dallas County Exhibition of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1960 Southwestern Art: A Sampling of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       1971–72 Texas Painting and Sculpture: The 20th Century, Pollack Galleries, Owen Arts Center, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, traveled to: Witte Confluence Museum, HemisFair Plaza, San Antonio; University Art Museum, University of Texas at Austin; Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth; The Museum, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas (catalogue)

·       1971 Owen Art Center, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas

·       1977 Retrospective, Paintings by Ben Culwell, McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas (catalogue)

·       1977 Solo, Meredith Long & Company, Houston, Texas

·       1983 Images of Texas, Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, Texas, traveled to: Art Museum of South Texas, Corpus Christi; Amarillo Art Center, Amarillo, Texas (catalogue)

·       1985-86 Fifty Years of American Drawings 1930-1980, Menil Collection for Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France and Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

·       1987 Solo, Adrenalin Hour: The South Pacific, World War II, Menil Collection, Houston, Texas (catalogue)

·       1988 Texas Art: An Exhibition selected from the Menil Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Trustees’ Collection of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Menil Collection Richmond Hall, Houston, Texas (catalogue, texts by Neil Printz, Marilyn Zeitlin, and Alison de Lima Greene)

·       1989 Ben L. Culwell: Retrospective (Paintings from 1946 to 1989), Cultural Activities Center, Temple, Texas (catalogue)

·       1989 Solo, Butler Gallery, Houston, Texas

·       1991 Texas Selections from the Menil Collection, Galveston Art Center, Galveston, Texas

·       1996 Texas Modern and Post-Modern, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas (catalogue)

·       2007 Texas Modern: The Rediscovery of Early Texas Abstraction (1935-1965), Martin Museum of Art, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (catalogue)

·       2009 Back to the Future: Elements of “Modern” in Mid-Century Texas Art, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas

·       2009 Texas Paper: Watercolors, Pastels and Drawings from the Lone Star State, 1938-2008, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas

·       2011 Lone Star Modernism: A Celebration of Mid-Century Texas Art, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas

·       2011 Breakthrough: Sixty Years of Texas Abstraction, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas

·       2012 A Survey of Texas Modernists, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas

·       2013 Rhythms of Modernism, William Reaves Fine Art, Houston, Texas

·       2014 Ben L. Culwell: A Retrospective of the Texas Abstract Expressionist, David Dike Fine Art, Dallas, Texas

·       2014 A New Visual Vocabulary: Developments in Texas Modernism 1935-1965, One Allen Center, Lobby Gallery, Houston, Texas

·       2014 Macrocosm/Microcosm: Abstract Expressionism and the American Southwest, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma (catalogue)

·       2015 Texas Modernists: The Abstract Impulse, Grace Museum, Abilene, Texas (catalogue)

 

Selected Public Collections

·       Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

·       Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York

·       Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

·       Menil Collection, Houston, Texas

 

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