Hugo Gellert

Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) was an American illustrator and satirist.

Life and work

An émigré from Budapest, Hungary, Hugo Gellert came to the United States with his family in 1906. He studied at the Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design.

Gellert, a stated communist, considered his politics inseparable from his art. He had said that "Being an artist and being a communist are one and the same." He used his art to advance his ideals for the common people, and much of his art depicted what he saw as the injustices of racial divides and capitalism. Often his works were captured with slogans that helped further the illustration. The Working Day, for example [ From Karl Marx in Pictures, published in 1993, France] shows a black laborer standing back to back with a white miner, and is accompanied by a phrase from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, "Labor with a white skin cannot emancipate itself where labor with a black skin is branded. [ [http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/goldstein/19.jpgGellert Painting] ] "

He was a very well-known artist in this country during the 1930s, yet he has essentially been forgotten. Today he is perhaps more infamous for his passionate commitment to leftist political agitation than for his contribution to American art, but Gellert strongly disavowed any distinction between the two. He professed that, for him, political agitation and art were the same thing". [ [http://newdeal.feri.org/gellert/wechsler.htm James Wechsler, CUNY Art History Department: Save Gellert's Seward Park Murals] ]

His social commentary, his work and his beliefs have placed him among the greatest American social artists of the Art Deco era according to experts in the field [ [http://www.artoftheprint.com/artistpages/gellert_hugo_primaryaccumulation.htm The Art of Print] ]

His brother Lawrence was a music collector who in the 1930s has documented black protest traditions in the South of the United States.

His wife was named Livia.

Art as Protest

Opposed to World War I, Gellert published his first anti-war art in 1916. It appeared in the publication “The Masses”. [ [http://www.lib.msu.edu/coll/main/spec_col/radicalism/exhibits/masses/ The Masses, Considered a Leftist Journal] ] He also painted for the “The Liberator,” monthly arts and letters magazine of the Workers Party of America. Later, he was offered a position as a staff artist for the New Yorker Magazine. In 1925, he went to the New York Times.

In 1927, Gellert was appointed the leader of the Anti-Horthy League, the first American anti-fascist organization. In this capacity, he organized a demonstration against U.S. president Calvin Coolidge, and both he and his wife were arrested while picketing the White House. [ [http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,786996,00.html Time Magazine, The Coolidge Week , Monday, Mar. 26, 1928] ] [ [http://www.graphicwitness.org/contemp/gellert1.htm Gellert Life Time line] ]

In 1932, the Museum of Modern Art, feeling uncomfortable about Gellert’s public persona and politics, petitioned to have Gellert’s work removed from its collection. However, they were forced to reconsider when other artists, many of whom did not share Gellert’s social idealism, came to his defense as fellow artists and threatened to withdraw their own works. In 1939, Gellert helped organize the group, “Artists for Defense” and he later became the Chairman for “Artists for Victory”, an organization that included over 10,000 members.

He died in Freehold, New Jersey in 1985.

Larger Works

Gellert became known for his art in print, but also began painting public murals, frescoes, and original lithographs.

Among the frescoes is the series that adorn the front entranceways of each of the four buildings of the Seward Park Housing Corporation, a housing cooperative with 1728 apartments, designed and built by Herman Jessor as part of the social housing cooperatives built by the Abraham Kazan and the United Housing Foundation, [ [http://newdeal.feri.org/gellert/wechsler.htm James Wechsler, CUNY Art History Department: Save Gellert's Seward Park Murals] ] . The series recently became the topic of controversy after the cooperative converted from its limited equity status to a fully private and market-rate residential co-op. The cooperative attempted to remove or destroy the four giant Gellert murals [ [http://newdeal.feri.org/gellert/images/jeff.jpgGellert Mural #1] ] [ [http://newdeal.feri.org/gellert/images/linc.jpgGellert Mural #2] ] [ [http://newdeal.feri.org/gellert/images/roos.jpgGellert Mural #3] ] [ [http://newdeal.feri.org/gellert/images/eins.jpgGellert Mural #4] ] The Coop board felt the socialist-style paintings were no longer representative of the people or the Lower East Side neighborhood [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE4D6103AF932A1575AC0A9659C8B63 "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: LOWER EAST SIDE; New Masses, Old Murals", By IAN MOUNT, Published: September 21, 2003] ]

Public protests and letter writing, inspired threats of legal action and other possible setbacks, caused the plan to be delayed. Gellert’s artwork can still be seen in each of the buildings. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EED81030F934A25756C0A96E958260 "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: LOWER EAST SIDE -- UPDATE; Seward Park Houses' 49-Year-Old Murals Get a Reprieve", By EDWARD LEWINE, Published: May 17, 1998] ]

Famous Works

* “Karl Marx’s ‘Capital’ in Lithographs”
* “Comrade Gulliver”
* “Aesop Said So”.

Citations and References

External links

* [http://www.graphicwitness.org/contemp/gellert.htm Overview over Hugo Gellerts life and works]
* [http://newdeal.feri.org/gellert/index.htm Hugo Gellert's Seward Park Murals]
* [http://www.graphicwitness.org/contemp/marxtitle.htm Karl Marx' "Capital" in Lithographs] , by Hugo Gellert
* [http://www.aaa.si.edu/collectionsonline/gellhugo/ The Hugo Gellert Papers Online ] at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art
* [http://artandsocialissues.cmaohio.org/web-content/pages/econ_gallert.html Columbus Museum of Art] Web page on Gellert's 1930 lithograph "A Wounded Striker and the Soldier" (click on picture for larger version)


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