Jimmy Ernst, German/American (1920 - 1984)

The son of Dada Surrealist artist Max Ernst and art historian Louise Straus-Ernst, Jimmy Ernst was influenced by the style of his father as well as friendship with William Baziotes and Kurt Seligmann and other modernists that he met through his parents.

He was born in Cologne, Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1938 to escape the Hitler regime. He worked at the Museum of Modern Art and in 1941, Peggy Guggenheim, patroness of the arts in New York, hired him as her personal assistant.

His work is in numerous museum collections including tshe Pasadena Art Institute in California, the Toledo Museum of Art and Houston's Museum of Fine Arts.

Jimmy Ernst has seen both the best and worst of humankind. Born into a life of artistic privilege, he saw the promise and hope of his youth shattered in the darkness of the Nazi reign of terror. Yet his art stands as a testament to the power of the human spirit to triumph even in the face of unspeakable horror.

Ernst must have had a magical childhood. He was called “Jimmy, Dadafex Minimus” by his father, the Dada/Surrealist master Max Ernst. His mother, Louise Straus-Ernst, was a well-known art historian. As a child he grew up in the midst of the leading artists and intellectuals in Europe. Imagine--as lore has it--his diapers being changed by Paul Klee (that would have been something to witness), and Jean Arp giving him piggyback rides. He and his mother were captured by famed photographer August Sandler in an unforgettable image: his searching eyes are so haunting.

Yet for all the beauty that surrounded him as a child, his life was to take a terrifying turn as his mother and father were sent to concentration camps as enemies of the Third Reich. While Jimmy was able to secure the release of his father, he was unable to rescue his mother, who was to eventually die in Auschwitz. He is a witness to the promise of a world enhanced by the power of art, destroyed by hatred.

In America, his art reflected the influences of his adopted country. In 1950, his reputation was such that he joined the “Irascible Eighteen” along with such noted artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem deKoonig, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko. He is immortalized in that famous photograph of the Irascibles protesting the lack of abstract art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This exhibition surveys over forty years of the artist’s work, reflecting the depth and range of Ernst’s career. From dark and haunting images such as Moonscape (1969) that look like carvings on the side of Pueblo pottery, to the almost psychedelic explosions of lines and bold colors in Before It Is Too Late (1976), his scope is striking. In early paintings like The Elements (1942) you can see standard Surrealist motifs at play. The swaying, biomorphic forms seem to be dancing to an unheard music, most likely jazz, of which the artist was very fond.

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