B. PATERSON, NEW JERSEY, 1914
D.MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, 2005
Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Geist was a sculptor whose work defied easy characterization. He took inspiration from a broad range of sources including the art of northwest coastal Indians to folk art to American and European modernists. The body of work Geist developed over six decades was unique for its joie de vivre as well as his consistent use of hand-hewn organic material. In 1992 the artist said, “I work in everything on the other side of the Bronze Age: wood, stone and clay…there’s nothing in my work a Neolithic artist couldn’t reproduce.” The estate of Sidney Geist is represented solely by Eric Firestone Gallery.
Sidney Geist studied at St. Stephen’s College in Annandale on Hudson, (now Bard College). From 1931 to 1937 he was apprenticed to Paul Fiene in Woodstock and then worked with William Zorach at the Art Students League. After the war he participated in the New Jersey Federal Arts Project before travelling to Paris to study at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere with sculptor Ossip Zadkine. Geist established a studio in Manhattan in 1951 after an extended stay in Mexico.
He frequented the artists’ sessions at the Eighth Street Club in Greenwich Village, widely considered a gateway to New York’s then burgeoning avant-garde. The Artists’ Club was home to panel discussions and lively artists’ talks – a place to rub shoulders with New York’s first tier artists, among them Willem de Kooning and Philip Pavia.
Geist’s sculpture moved between abstract and figural totems to robust female forms. The artist also worked in 2-dimensions, creating graphic works on paper, paintings and collages. The art on view at Eric Firestone Gallery, dating from 1948-1990, includes the artist’s self-described “tall paintings” as well as modest scale bronze, wood and terra cotta sculptures and selected works on paper and canvas. The art historian and critic Hilton Kramer said of Geist’s sculpture, “…some are abstract variations on Brancusi’s Endless Column, though painted color – which Brancusi eschewed – remains a defining interest for Mr. Geist.”
From 1960 to 1962, Geist produced an alternative arts newsletter, Scrap, with Anita Ventura Mozley, a curator and Eadweard Muybridge scholar. Scrap grew out of a shared dissatisfaction with conventional art criticism and, Geist later wrote, expressed “both a combativeness and an irreverence toward criticism itself.” Archival layouts from Scrap will be on view during the exhibition. He became an accomplished writer whose critically acclaimed works on the artist Constantin Brancusi (also Cezanne, and others) are still considered seminal works in the field. In addition to his numerous published writings, Geist taught at various institutions, among them the University of California, Berkeley, Pratt Institute and Vassar College.