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Sag Harbor Gallery Owner Resurrects The Unremembered And Fosters Local Artists

Originally Posted: June 06, 2011

Thomas McKee

"Family of Jugglers," 1957 by Nahum Tschacbasov. (Courtesy Photo: Arthur Kalaher Gallery)

Sag Harbor - If there were a formula for fame within the visual arts marketplace, Russian-born painter, Nahum Tschacbasov, should have been Jackson Pollock. He was an acolyte of the New York School in the 1930s and 1940s, a purebred Abstract Expressionist, trained under the tutelage of Gottlieb and the shadow of Surrealism, complete with all the trappings of automatism and dreamscapes. He fraternized with the "tragic and timeless," manifesting his principles of gesture, color, form, and texture alongside Rothko, Newman, and other artists grouped together by the Union and the Works Progress Administration. Like Pollock, Tschacbasov excavated the confines of the unconscious mind, developing an undeniably-Jungian visual language of stars, moons, birds, and boats. The two artists even sought Jungian psychoanalytic treatment, both in 1939. Not to mention their geographic sensibilities - each settled on the East End for the remainder of their careers, like lions in winter.

However, Tschacbasov did not have a highly publicized drinking problem. He had no tumultuous romances with any mid-century modernists (eat your heart out, Lee Krasner), nor is there a bio-pic airing his dirty laundry, exploiting his post-humus legacy for all movie-goers to see. He doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Needless to say, he isn't cited on the shortlist of the most expensive artworks sold - Pollock presides over that catalog, earning $140 million for his "No. 5" at a 2006 Sotheby's auction.

"I think he got lost in the shuffle," says Arthur Kalaher, owner of the Arthur T. Kalaher Fine Art Gallery in Southampton, as well as a newly opened sister studio space in Sag Harbor. Kalaher, who has been dealing and appraising art for over 25 years, has recently acquired the remaining works of Tschacbasov's estate, and is proud to exhibit the often-overlooked oeuvre in his Sag Harbor gallery. After years of working in antiques, Kahaler pursued a career as an art dealer as an extension of a childhood passion. His two galleries, which carry a large range of art, from traditional 19th century American and European painting, to more conceptual, "modern" pieces of the 1970s, cater to "quality art, art that stands on its own," Kalaher claims, "with value, and a fair market price."

Given the recent increase in the art market's interest in mid-century Abstract Expressionists, Kalaher's exhibition of Tschacbasov's underrepresented paintings comes at optimal time for art collectors looking for works that will accrue value in upcoming years. According to historian and curator, Timothy Cohrs, in an article for Arts Magazine (1987), "Tschacbasov is that truly rare find - an overlooked dynamo worthy of a closer examination and another decade of exhibitions."

Kahaler agrees, and if Cohr's article is any indication of the status-quo of the art market, Kahaler is curatorial visionary. "Each of the Tschacbasov's paintings are an attempt to reach some level of psychic expression," he says. "The very basic of Tschacbasov's art is the multiple self and a differentiated ego - aspects which artists in the past had a tendency to suppress."

This notion of the fragmented, though individuated self is particularly poignant when considering Tschacbasov's 1957 painting, "Family of Jugglers." In the painting, a series of faceless figures overlap on a visual plain like that of a shattered mirror. The boundary between self and other is muddled. The effect is disorienting, like looking into a broken shards of Technicolor glass. One cannot help but picture a young Tschacbasov, in the 1900s Russo-American slums of Chicago, inundated by a visual landscape of urban decay and poverty, only to reorder the imagery to his liking later in life.

The Abstract Expressionist movement marked the most blatant emergence of the artist's subjective experience, freed from the imperative of objective representation, and the mimesis of waking reality. What Tschacbasov offers viewers, with his convergence of Cubist lines and a Surrealist visual language is a raw expression of archaic thought, a primary-process rendering of the human experience. It comes to no surprise that contemporaneous artists of the New York School shared a mutual sense of alienation - they were too busy digging through the underbelly of consciousness and perception to socialize in their social world. Mark Rothko slit his wrists at his kitchen sink in 1970. Pollack crashed his Oldsmobile, drunkenly, in the summer of 1956. Thus the archetypal "artist as tortured soul" was reborn, only to be disparaged by the Pop Art descendents to follow.

When one looks in between the facts, you might be able to conjecture why Peggy Guggenheim never came a-knocking for her Art of the Century exhibition, or why Sotheby's has never held a million-dollar auction in Tschacbasov's honor. He split with the New York School in the late 1950s - the whole thing must have been too egotistical for him. Whereas he sought a new dimension of representing political, human concerns, the nothingness of experience, and the gesture of painting itself was enough for Rothko, Newman, Pollock, and the like. According to Tschacbasov himself, "Having heard all the arguments for sanity in art, my work is a response to something more convincing. I suggest that the artist by all means explain his work thoroughly to the imaginative, keep his tongue in his cheek for the sophisticated, paint in umber for the melancholy, and go to bed on time."

You can't argue with that.

In addition to fostering the underdogs of the art-historical establishment, Kalaher believes whole-heartedly in the works of local artists, some notables including Patton Miller, Thomas Cardone, and an upcoming exhibition for Joseph Chierchio, starting on July 4. "I think it's important as a gallery owner," Kalaher says, "to show the work of the local people. There is a fraternity of artists on the East End, and great light out here that artists love. There's a lot of great work being produced."

For more information on Nahum Tschacbasov, Joseph Chierchio, or Arthur T. Kalaher Fine Art, email arthurtkalaher@gmail.com. Arthur T. Kalaher Fine Art is located at 197 Madison Street, Sag Harbor, 941-993-3737; and 28E Jobs Lane, Southampton, 631-204-0383.

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