Sidney Gordin, American (1918 - 1996)

Sidney Gordin

On October 24, 1918, Sidney Gordin was born in Chelyabinsk, Russia. He spent his early years in Shanghai, China. At the age of four, he moved with his family to New York. Gordin’s nephew, Eliot Nemzer recalls that when Gordin was a child he attended “a dinner party with his parents. Someone showed him a book of pictures that when thumbed through quickly made the image appear to move. This person then gave him a wad of blank papers and something to write with. Sid created a similar type of moving image with his materials. All the adults at the party became quite excited [and] praised his efforts. Sid told me he thought this was a pivotal experience in guiding him towards his vocation.” During his formative years at Brooklyn Technical High School, he briefly contemplated the idea of becoming an architect; yet, by the time he enrolled at Cooper Union, he was determined to become a professional artist. There, he studied under Morris Kantor (1896-1974) and Leo Katz (1887-1982), devoting much of his class schedule to drawing and painting.

In 1949, Gordin turned his attention to sculpture for the first time. Three years later, he held his first solo-exhibition at Bennington College in Vermont and the Peter Cooper Gallery in New York. That same year he was accepted into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s group exhibition American Sculpture 1951. His metal and wire constructions were shown alongside such sculptors as Alexander Calder (1898-1976), William Zorach (1887-1966), and George Rickey (1907-2002). Over the following years, he regularly exhibited in the annual exhibitions of the Whitney Museum of American Art, while also holding yearly solo-exhibitions at the Grace Borgenicht Gallery in New York. Three days into his first solo-exhibition at Borgenicht in 1953, the Whitney made their first acquisition of his work by purchasing a metal construction for their permanent collection.

By the late 1950s, he began to employ wood in his sculptures, which eventually led to the creation of painted constructions. With a renewed interest in painting, Gordin often alternated between these painted wood constructions and two-dimensional painting up until his death in the early 90s.

Following teaching stints at both Sarah Lawrence College and the New School for Social Research in New York, Gordin accepted a position at UC Berkeley’s Department of Art in 1958. Amidst the emerging Bay Area art scene, Gordin taught alongside such artists as Peter Voulkos, Joan Brown, and Jay de Feo. Coinciding with his move to Berkeley, he held his first solo-exhibition on the West Coast at San Francisco’s seminal Dilexi Gallery. In 1962, the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco mounted his first one-man museum show.

Yet, while maintaining his professorship at Berkeley, Gordin never completely cut his ties to the East Coast. He maintained a studio in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which he often visited throughout the years, and continued to appear in several exhibitions organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney, and the Zabriskie Gallery well into the 90s. Over the next several decades, he was included in prominent group exhibitions such as the Whitney’s Precisionist View in American Art and Geometric Abstraction in America; the exhibition West Coast Now, which traveled from the Portland Art Museum to the Seattle Art Museum, the De Young, and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery; and the Oakland Museum’s exhibition, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area. During the course of his career, he was also included in shows in Paris, Tel Aviv, and Tokyo.

He retired from teaching in 1986 as Professor Emeritus of Art. Following his retirement, he, along with several members of the Berkeley Art Department, founded the Breakfast Club, an eclectic mix of Bay Area artists and students that met weekly for discussions about art and politics and held regular group exhibitions for many years. Three years before his death in 1993, he was inducted as a Member of the National Academy of Design. He passed away in his sleep at the age of 77 on January 28, 1996.

Timeline:

1918 Born in Cheliabinsk, Russia on October 24
1922 Moves with family to New York City
1937 Graduates from Brooklyn Technical School
1941 Graduates from Cooper Union in New York City
1951 Holds first solo-exhibition in New York at the Peter Cooper Gallery
1957-59 Member of the Faculty at the New School for Social Research
1958 Member of the Faculty at Sarah Lawrence College
1958-1986 Teaches at University of California, Berkeley
1959 Holds first solo-exhibition in San Francisco at the Dilexi Gallery
1960 Buys a studio in Provincetown, MA
1962 Retrospective exhibition at the M.H. De Young Museum takes place
1986 Retired as Professor Emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley
1996 Died in his sleep at the age of 77 in Berkeley

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