Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death

July 13, 2019–February 23, 2020
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Henry and Lois Foster Gallery (Gallery 158)

Boston painter Hyman Bloom (1913–2009) combined the physical and the spiritual on canvas. In his paintings from the 1940s and 1950s of the human body after death, of autopsies, skeletal trees, and archeological excavations, he got beneath the surface of things, exploring form and seeking significance. Committed to figurative painting at a defining moment of American art when abstraction was on the rise, Bloom employed thick paint in jewel-like tones to make gripping and beautiful works that challenge our concepts of beauty and our understanding of the true meaning of “still life.” As writer and painter Elaine de Kooning described it, Bloom “seems to think with his brush,” revealing complicated philosophical meanings “in the action of [his] painting.”

Hyman Bloom: Matters of Life and Death” includes approximately 70 dramatic paintings and drawings from public and private collections—including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Addison Gallery of American Art—that chart the artist’s career as well as his constant interest in the human body. Bloom’s complex works draw upon the artist’s Jewish faith, his interest in Eastern religions, and his transcendent belief in regeneration. In Female Corpse, Back View (1947), pictured above, he renders a decomposing cadaver with a palette of rich colors. As he remarked, in such images, “the paradox of the harrowing and the beautiful could be brought into unity.”

I worked with Erica Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings, on exhibition layout and design, interpretation, and programming.

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