Pandora's Box. July 1958
oil on canvas
143 by 143cm each
signed, titled, dated 1958 July, numbered and inscribed on the reverse of each canvas
Purchased directly from the artist by Eugene & Penelope Rosenberg until 2014;
Private Collection until 2022
London, Tate Gallery (long term loan until 2014)
Swipe or click on image to view full screen and further images
This diptych is one of a series of wonderful early gestural abstractions that Harold Cohen, and also his younger brother Bernard, produced in a golden period of British abstraction in the late 1950s. Both brothers, along with Anthony Caro, Robyn Denny and Richard Smith would later go on to exhibit together at the British Pavillion at the 1966 Venice Biennale.
Purchased directly from Cohen by the Rosenbergs, the diptych has been on long term loan to the Tate Gallery until recently. It dates from a period when Cohen was developing as an artist catalysed by the London School artists working in his circle - Denny, Smith, Ayres and Turnbull - that were given a voice by the, then, hugely influential and innovative Gimpel Fils gallery. Other works from this period are now in museum collections such as the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, University of Nottingham and Bradford Museums and Galleries. In the Sixties, Cohen went on to exhibit with the famously hip Robert Fraser Gallery and Alan Stone in New York.
This wonderful summer of 1958 produced some of the great British gestural abstracts. A year after the Redfern Gallery hosted the seminal 'Metavisual Tashiste Abstract' exhibition, the younger London school exhibited with the established names from St Ives, New York and Paris at Gimpel Fils and stood side by side with them. Their work rubbing off on each other catalysing before everything went 'POP' and hard edged a year or so later. This was a period before The Beatles, The Stones; before JFK and Cuba's 13 days; before the Pill, colour TV and the microchip and yet artists were feeding off each other creating these vibrant modern gestural masterpieces either side of the Atlantic and exhibiting them together. At the 1958 Summer exhibition at Gimpel Fils, Cohen showed alongside Rothko, Pollock & Riopelle; de Stael, Soulages & Dubuffet; Nicholson, Hepworth, Moore, Davie & Lanyon; and his generation of Denny, Caro, Blow, Kinley & Swan. Knowing quite a number of the works shown in that 1958 exhibition it must a been quite a feast for the eyes and great project to recreate it.
Eugene and Penelope Rosenberg were great collectors of 20th century British Art. The architect Eugene Rosenberg was a leading exponent of modernist architecture in Britain following the Second World War. Rosenberg's practice was responsible for a number of innovative architectural projects such as Gatwick Airport and the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. (left)
Harold Cohen at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1979
Rosenberg was passionate in promoting public art commissioning leading contemporary artists such as Henry Moore, Paul Feiler and Naum Gabo to create site specific works - in 1958 he commissioned the Altnagelvin Hospital Mural (1959–61) by William Scott for the first post-war NHS Hospital in Britain. Shortly before his death he wrote "I am committed to the belief that the artist has an important contribution to make to architecture. The bond between contemporary art and architecture is not easy to define, but I believe they are complementary - that architecture is enriched by art and that art has something to gain from its architectural setting."
In Rosenberg's retirement he continued his passion writing, with Richard Cork, "Architect’s Choice, Art in Architecture in Great Britain since 1945". A number of works from their collection were donated to the Tate in 2015 including Peter Lanyon's "West Penwith".
Born 1 May 1928 in London Harold Cohen was the elder brother of Bernard Cohen. Studied at the Slade School 1948–52; awarded the Abbey Travelling Scholarship 1952 and visited Italy. First one-man exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1951; his first in London at Gimpel Fils 1954. Fellow in Fine Arts at Nottingham University 1956–9. Spent 1959–61 in the United States on a Harkness Commonwealth Fellowship and held an exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery, New York, 1961. Contributed to the Situation exhibitions in 1960 and 1961. Joined the teaching staff of the Slade School 1962 and went on to exhibit at the Venice Biennale alongside Robyn Denny, Richard Smith, Bernard Cohen and Anthony Caro in 1966. Cohen moved to the United States in 1968 where he became a pioneer of computer generated art developing Aaron, one of the first and eventually one of the most complex computer software programs for generating works of art. New York Times obituary.