The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2010

All Issues
MAR 2010 Issue

The Wells Street Gallery

“These were romantic paintings by young artists created in optimistic times.”

-John O’Neal, Manager, Wells Street Gallery

“It was around 1957, in an old store front on Wells, that a band of young, fire-eating vanguard artists made a staunch effort to interest Chicago in abstract painting.”

-Franz Schulze

In early spring 1957, a tough group of young artists found themselves living on North Wells Street in Chicago. There were Robert Natkin and Judith Dolnick, Gerald van de Wiele and Ann Mattingly; the group grew to include Richard Bogart, John Chamberlain, Ernest Dieringer, Ronald Slowinski, Naomi Tatum (Hirsh), Donald Vlack, and others. These artists were either first year art students or just considering art school when Willem de Kooning’s Excavation arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1951, won first prize at the Institute’s 60th Annual American Exhibition: Painting and Sculpture, and turned the local art scene in Chicago on its head.[i]

Robert Natkin, <i>Earth Quake</i>, 1957, oil on canvas, 81 x 86 1/2 inches.
Robert Natkin, Earth Quake, 1957, oil on canvas, 81 x 86 1/2 inches.

“We needed a place to show our work,” said Robert Natkin, “We needed a gallery.”[ii] That summer, the gang of artists led by Natkin, opened a co-operative gallery in an old storefront at 1359 North Wells Street, Chicago where Natkin and Dolnick had been living.  With some leftover money from the Natkin/Dolnick wedding in March and some financing from chemical-engineer-turned-artist friend, Stanley Sourelis, the group “took over a down-at-the-heel shop that had seen better days as a restaurant, and sad days as a plumbing establishment.”[iii] Architect Paul Campagna, a protégé of Mies van der Rohe, oversaw the gallery’s renovation, which included a precise soft grey color for the linoleum floor and 18’ tall curtains for the front windows.[iv]


With living and studio quarters in the back for Natkin and Dolnick, and Odetta,[v] the struggling folk singer living above, the gallery opened with a sensation and was promptly tagged “an avant-garde exhibition place filled with the most advanced abstractions in town” by the Chicago Sunday Tribune MAGAZINE .[vi] The Group quickly found a champion in art critic Franz Schultze who later remembered the group as “a band of young, fire-eating vanguard artists [who] made a staunch effort to interest Chicago in abstract painting.”[vii]


At the time Wells Street Gallery opened, few galleries in Chicago or elsewhere for that matter were interested in the work of young unknown abstract artists. Chicago in general wasn’t interested in abstraction, as many of the postwar artists and their collectors favored image and myth. Chicago wasn’t lacking in first-rate galleries. “The most important development of the early-to-middle 1950s was the appearance of Allan Frumkin and Fairweather-Hardin.”[viii] The Hyde Park Art Center and Johnson Galleries pretty much rounded out the gallery scene. The Arts Club, Art Institute and the Institute of Design were influential in their own way, but neither catered to young abstract painting.

John Chamberlain,<i> G.G.</i>, 1956, steel, 77 x 24 x 23 inches. Private collection.
John Chamberlain, G.G., 1956, steel, 77 x 24 x 23 inches. Private collection.

Frumkin’s advent was especially important to the growth of Chicago art, “because his exhibition program reflected the same international outlook and commitment to advanced modernist idioms that the Chicago artists of the late 1940s had been looking for. Franz Kline, Matta, Germaine Richier, Victor Brauner and Joseph Cornell […] it represented an effective alternative to the tedious annual pilgrimage to New York which Chicago artists had forever been obliged to make if they wanted to see something more real than pictures in the magazines.”[ix] Frumkin did represent a peculiar strain of Chicago expressionism found in three local sculptors (Joseph Goto, Hugh Townley, H. C. Westerman) and four painters (Leon Golub, Gene Hedge, June Leaf, Evelyn Statsinger).”


Chicago had a history of marginalizing its young artists. In 1947, the Art Institute banned student work from its long-standing Chicago Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture. The Chicago Show, as it was called, “had long been the most important event of the season for local artists; it was their best opportunity to get their work hung in a place of real distinction,” wrote Franz Schultze, “and it carried a bundle of generous prizes […] There was an inevitable chafing among the old pros, who finally banded together and persuaded the Institute to prohibit all students from the Chicago Show.”[x] Protesting these exclusionary practices, the castaways resolved that the “validity of an art work rested on the quality of the work itself and not on the professional status of the painter.”[xi] Their meeting led to the formation of Exhibition Momentum.

Much like the salon des refusés, Exhibition Momentum was the direct response to a rigid traditionalism. Momentum became one of the few places contemporary art was shown in postwar Chicago. “I was engaged in the Momentum exhibitions because it was exciting,” Naktin said, “because it was an opportunity to begin exhibiting my paintings and to see the most innovative work being done in Chicago. People like Leon Golub were involved in it as a struggle against the Art Institute’s rejecting attitude […] Of course without Golub’s sense of cause the group would not have existed. But I must confess that I was an innocent, young punk more or less coming in out of the rain, enjoying the fire, but rather unaware of the source of heat.”[xii]

The first Exhibition Momentum was held in 1948 and the successive exhibitions laid the groundwork for an eventual change in the Art Institute policies two years later. Allan Frumkin urged on the younger artists to keep Momentum going,[xiii] and as it continued, it initiated a system of independent jurors[xiv] and opened the invitational to the entire Chicago-Midwest art community. In 1956 New York gallerist Charles Egan, painter Jack Tworkov,[xv] and critic Robert Goldwater were invited as jurors. 188 artists were selected and among them was the twenty-six year old painter Robert Natkin. Natkin’s work was singled out as of particular interest in a review of the show in Art News.[xvi]

Wells Street Gallery opened on the exact premise of the Exhibition Momentum. “Wells Street,” wrote The Chicago Sunday Tribune, “is engaged on an adventure of showing the experimental endeavors of a great number of artists, most of whom have as yet, lacked an opportunity to come before the public.”[xvii] The gallery would not only feature their young talented Chicago-based friends, but also unrepresented artists from as far away as Detroit and New York City. And so the group set out on an ambitious three-week rotating exhibition program that was maintained year round, with Campagna checking in often to oversee the hangings and that his linoleum was kept spotless.

The first exhibition at Wells Street Gallery opened on August 23, 1957. It featured a group show that included the architect Paul Campagna, sculptor John Chamberlain, photographer Aaron Siskind, and painters Richard Bogart, Ernest Dieringer, Judith Dolnick, Tom Field, Ann Mattingly, Robert Natkin, Richard Stout and Donald Vlack among others. The Chicago Daily News called the show “a reflection of vim, vigor, and vitality of a young vanguard […].”[xviii] Soon the artists associated with the gallery became known as the Wells Street Group. Some saw the group as the leaders of a new Chicago School. “[The Wells Street Group] are bound together in idiom and attitude with such closeness,” wrote Franz Schulze, “that the outsider (who tends to feel he is precisely that) has difficulty in distinguishing the painters and the paintings. Their own names therefore have unfortunately come to be replaced by the inclusive term “Wells Street’—a kind of Corporate Artist somewhat akin to Dada’s ‘Exquisite Corpse.’”[xix]

The second show at Wells Street Gallery featured the first one-person exhibition of the sculptor, John Chamberlain.[xx] At the time Chamberlain, who had at one time lived on North Wells Street, was living and working in New York. As a student Chamberlain briefly attended first the University of Illinois and next the Art Institute of Chicago where he met and befriended Gerald van de Wiele and Richard Bogart. It was van de Wiele who dragged both Chamberlain and Bogart down to Black Mountain College for the 1955-56 academic year; then afterwards, they all returned to Chicago and then Chamberlain, back to New York. The Wells Street show featured works of welded steel. Chamberlain drove the entire exhibition from New York to Chicago in his car.[xxi] The Chicago Daily News reviewed the show calling the work “examples of an uninhibited, courageous, audacious, searching talent […] His materials for his sculptures could be found in any junk heap, yet his use of them results in a miraculous transformation.”[xxii]

The paintings of Gerald van de Wiele was the third exhibition at the gallery.[xxiii] Van de Wiele grew up in Detroit and attended the School of Art Institute of Chicago for a few months, but found it too rigid. Enticed by a letter from Jorge Fick, van de Wiele went down to Black Mountain College and enrolled as a student in September 1954. There were only seven students enrolled at the time, but van de Wiele didn’t mind; he was looking more for a place to paint than to pile up credits. When classes were suspended during the winter of 1955, van de Wiele returned to Chicago. While there, he convinced two friends, Richard Bogart and John Chamberlain, to follow him back in the spring.[xxiv]

Robert Natkin had the fourth exhibition at the gallery.[xxv] Natkin exhibited paintings, drawings and collage. As a young student Natkin had a job at the Newberry Library. He moved into an abandoned warehouse where Richard Bogart and Gerry van de Wiele were living. “Gerry had just come back from Black Mountain College and was excited about Abstract Expressionism,” Natkin explains, “Also, [Gerry] had studied with Charles Olson and Robert Duncan […] he was always quoting them.[xxvi] I was excited! Gerry became a strong influence on Bogart and myself.”[xxvii] Naktin was a first-year art student when de Kooning’s Excavation came to Chicago. “I remember looking at it and thinking that it was utterly, completely mysterious. And yet I loved it without understanding why.”[xxviii] Fellow Wells Street painter, Ernest Dieringer recalls, “Whenever I couldn’t find Bob, I’d go up to the gallery and find him sitting there in front of it. Rocking back and forth. Staring up at it as if in a trance!”[xxix]

By the time Natkin’s show closed in November, Wells Street Galley was on the map. Philip Guston, Franz Kline, and Sam Hunter arrived from New York as the jurors for the annual Exhibition Momentum,[xxx] and lent much accreditation to the group when they included nearly every member of the Wells Street Group in their tight selection of 30 artists.

The Chicago Daily News reported, “This week New York painters Franz Kline and Philip Guston and the Museum of Modern Art’s Sam Hunter juried the 1957 Exhibition Momentum picking the most non-objective exhibition that Momentum has had in its eight-year history. Kline and Guston are counted in the vanguard group known as the New York School of abstract expressionism. Chicago has its counterpart, the Chicago School, which is fast developing into the same kind of vigorous nonobjective nonrepresentational expressionism. Robert Natkin, Judith Dolnick, Gerald van de Wiele, Ann Mattingly, Richard Stout, Donald Vlack, and S. G. Sourelis, all of the Wells Street Gallery group epitomize this color energy type of painting.”[xxxi]

Another reviewer described the show this way:

This year the exhibition was limited in geographical distribution and it turned out to be, in effect, a Chicago-and-vicinity show to which artists were admitted on the basis of groups of three to five works […] The jury was made up of Philip Guston, Sam Hunter and Franz Kline, and obviously it was in many respects a harmonious group. Sixteen of the artists included were selected by all three jurors, six by various combinations of two of them, eight by one or another of the jurors alone. Guston seems to have had the most individual taste of the three jurors; four artists entered the show because he alone wanted them to be there. [xxxii] In recent years there has been a good deal of talk about a Chicago school. I was told by the gallery attendant, the day I was there, that there had been an “old” Chicago school, but that this has been displaced by a “new” one. How time flies! Only two years ago, the “new” Chicago school was led by [Cosmo] Campoli, [George] Cohen, [Jorge] Fink, [Leon] Golub and [Joseph] Goto, but I am now informed that this is presently the “old” group, and that there is a new school made up of Judith Dolnick, Ann Mattingly, Robert Natkin, Gerald van de Wiele and Don Vlack.[xxxiii]

At the opening of the Exhibition Momentum, Guston, Kline, and Sam Hunter took part in a panel moderated by Joshua Taylor.[xxxiv] Hunter recalled "Kline was hilarious, once he was recovered from a neighborhood tavern and positioned upright on stage."[xxxv] Later, Aaron Siskind joined Guston and Kline for a drunken spree in Calumet City, a suburb renowned for it’s rough-n-tumble ways and links to Al Capone. Noah Goldowsky[xxxvi] financed their fun, giving the trio around $200.00 for their ‘adventure.’[xxxvii] Gerald van de Wiele remembers Franz Kline getting so drunk once that he passed out on his couch.[xxxviii]

Following Natkin’s show was a pair of painters Judith Dolnick and Ernest Dieringer.[xxxix]  Dolnick studied at Institute of Design and was one of the few women painters in the group. After graduating from Stanford she returned to Chicago and married Robert Natkin. “She works with pure intuition,” Natkin once said, “She is probably the purest artist I have ever come across.”[xl]

Ernest Dieringer studied at the Art Institute of Chicago for five years. He spent two years in the army and returning to Chicago rented a small studio on the near north side and made paintings of such thickness that they would take years to dry. Later, he went looking for a larger space where he could work in grand scale making paintings with random patches of thin paint. He met fellow artist Bev Parson and the couple moved into a storefront just a few doors north of Wells Street Gallery. When they married, the gang threw a wedding reception for them in the gallery among a group show one Saturday night when the gallery closed.[xli]

A bohemian life played out at the gallery among the serious exhibitions of paintings. There were musical events from classical chamber music to Charlie Parker, folk music, and of course Odetta. For a time, the gang would get together every Saturday night to listen to a program called “The Midnight Special” on public radio.[xlii]

Closing out the first year of the gallery was a group show of paintings by Black Mountain College Alumni: Jorge Fick, Stanley Korzen, and Joseph Fiore.[xliii]


There were some big changes during the second year of Wells Street. Natkin and Dolnick moved out to a spot just up the street. John O’Neal and painter Naomi Tatum (Hirst) moved in to run the space. Everyone paid about $35 or so when they had an exhibition to help keep things going,[xliv] and each artist designed their own announcement.[xlv] O’Neal took over the day-to-day management of the space including maintaining the exhibition schedule. Naomi acted more or less like a live-in co-manager with O’Neal. She found the arrangement “perfect.” “I got to see and be around great new solid art every day […] the Wells Street Group opened my soul to a lifetime of friends. It was rare and exciting […] really good artists, living in the same neighborhood, supporting each other’s work. Most held down nine-to-five jobs, and yet they were still in their studios […].”[xlvi] By 1958 Wells Street Gallery was “a focal point for what appeared to be a growing Chicago inclination toward Paris/New York abstract art.”[xlvii]

The gang kept up the three-week exhibition schedule opening the first show of the 1958 season with paintings by Don Vlack.[xlviii]

Aaron Siskind, <i>Chicago 25</i>, 1957, silver print, 20 x 24 inches, Courtesy Aaron Siskind Foundation and Robert Mann Gallery, NY.
Aaron Siskind, Chicago 25, 1957, silver print, 20 x 24 inches, Courtesy Aaron Siskind Foundation and Robert Mann Gallery, NY.

The next exhibition featured Aaron Siskind’s Mexican photographs.[xlix] Siskind arrived in Chicago in 1951, at the invitation of Harry Callahan, to join the faculty of the Institute of Design. By 1958, Siskind had established himself as a lone photographer among the Abstract Expressionist painters exhibiting his pictures along side their paintings well before it was the accepted norm. Siskind’s bold, graphic and nearly abstract photographs on exhibit at the Egan Gallery in 1948 endeared him to the New York painters, but drew criticism from Clement Greenberg who insisted to Siskind, upon leaving the exhibition together in an elevator, that he couldn’t do that with photography, that photography had to “tell a story” it couldn’t be abstract.[l] In 1955, Siskind had made the first of many trips to Mexico.

Richard Bogart exhibited new painting in the spring.  Bogart grew up in Detroit and came to Chicago to study art. “Bob [Natkin] had a gang. There were girls and boys. A real entourage,” recalls Bogart, “They were all on the outs more or less, all the discarded, and when he found out I was on the outs, well then I was in! I screwed up on the fellowship [at the Art Institute], I just partied all the time, I did hardly any work. You were supposed to do your life drawing, the academy, you know, and I did line drawing. They didn’t think that was very swell and I think that’s what Bob liked, the line drawing.”[li]

Another young Chicago painter by the name of Ronald Slowinski showed in the summer.[lii]

In September 1958 O’Neal orchestrated a special loan exhibition to celebrate the gallery’s first anniversary. The exhibition featured work from prominent Chicago private collections and included leading New York School artists Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and David Smith.[liii] “The Chicago collectors—the Albert Newmans, Joseph Shapiros, Noah Godowskys [sic], Benjamin Baldwins and Leon Caines, have loaned paintings, drawings and sculpture to this abstract expressionist exhibition.”[liv] Reporting on the show in Art News Franz Schulze wrote. “It is a show worth attending, but perhaps less because of its own revelations than because The Wells Street Gallery, sewn together by a plucky and often exciting lot of young painters, deserves to be watched and sustained.”[lv]

These great Chicago collectors were friendly towards the artists but rarely attending openings at the gallery. None were really interested in actually owning Wells Street work.[lvi]


When the three-year lease on the storefront ended, the artists agreed not to renew, and Wells Street Gallery closed. “There comes a time in a young artist’s life,” John O’Neal explained, “that the romantic period of living the bohemian life is over and you have to make the decision of how you’re going to make a life as an artist. All the Wells Street artists knew that if they were going to make it they had to move to New York.”[lvii]

“Wells Street Gallery is singing its swan song this month,” reported The Chicago Daily News, “The gallery closes with the happy news that the Group will be showing in New York, where all of them will be living by fall.”[lviii]

The gallery closed on April 1, 1959. “Its going,” wrote Franz Schulze for Art News, “will remove one of the more provocative idiosyncrasies in Chicago art […] The Wells Street shows itself, which means the work of singularly devoted group of young painters […] bound together in idiom and attitude […] Wells Street will be missed; not because its members have as yet arrived at coherent realization of objectiveness, but because the objectives are worthy and unique in the local scene.”

By late 1959 nearly all the members of Wells Street had joined John Chamberlain in New York. “[The] subsequent departure for New York of most of the artists who were associated with Wells Street was not so much a result of financial hardship as it was a sign of their growing belief that Chicago was simply no place to practice abstract painting.”[lix]

Gerald van de Wiele, <i>Quarry</i>, 1956, oil on canvas, 86 x 53 inches.
Gerald van de Wiele, Quarry, 1956, oil on canvas, 86 x 53 inches.

The goal of the gallery was to create the opportunity to “break through professionally in Chicago,” Natkin said, “enough so that [we] could feel it would be worthwhile staying. I tried very hard to avoid an exodus to New York.”[lx] “What kind of victory is it when no one buys your art? I left Chicago because I wanted to earn my living as an artist.”[lxi]

“Every painter and sculptor who has developed [in Chicago] during the past ten years is familiar with the story of the 1950s,” wrote Franz Schultze, “it consists of the congealment of a Chicago creative identity, accompanied by keen promise and high hope, followed by miscarriage. Every young Chicago artist has had to make some basic decisions in view of this story. One of the most obvious and logical, therefore one of the most common, has been to move away.”[lxii]


“[To] no one’s surprise, they have been steadily gaining in reputation,” wrote Franz Schulze from New York in 1961.[lxiii] The Wells Street Group of Chicago with its unique style of gestural abstraction reached a receptive audience in New York.  Most notably Natkin, Bogart, Dolnick, Dieringer, and Slowinski were all invited by Elinor Poindexter to join her gallery,[lxiv] and John Chamberlain and Gerald van de Wiele were picked up by Leo Castelli Gallery.[lxv]

Today, this spunky group of artists are pushing nearly 80. While a few of the group have put down the paintbrushes, most of them continue, singularly devoted to the “rhapsodically violent, full-spectrum paint” the Wells Street Gallery will be remembered for.

[i] Ruth Moss, “Art Exhibition Is More Than Meets the Eye,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 25, 1951, 1.

[ii] Robert Natkin in conversation with Jason Andrew, Friday, November 13, 2009.

[iii] Edith Weigle, “Here’s Hope for the Unknown of the Avant Garde,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, September 29, 1957, part 7, 7.

[iv] John O’Neal, interview by author, Brooklyn, NY January 4, 2010.

[v] Odetta Holmes (1930-2008). Known as Odetta, she was an American folk signer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist. She is often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.” Odetta lived upstairs of the Wells Street Gallery. Robert Naktin arranged to trade paintings for guitar lessons. Another Wells Street artist, Don Vlack, actually dated Odetta for a time.

[vi] Chicago Sunday Tribune MAGAZINE, December 7, 1958.

[vii] Franz Schulze, “Surprises that Bloom in the Spring,” Art News, Spring 1961.

[viii] Franz Schulze, Fantastic Images; Chicago Art Since 1945 (Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1972), 19.

[ix] Franz Schulze, op. cit., 19.

[x] Franz Schulze, op. cit., 15.

[xi] Catalogue introduction to the 1956 Exhibition Momentum, May 23-June 20, 1956.

[xii] Peter Fuller, Natkin (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1981), 274.

[xiii] As an example of Frumklin’s support, the stationary used for Exhibition Momentum 1956 read: Exhibition Momentum care of Allan Frumkin Gallery, 152 E. Superior, Chicago, IL SU 7-0564. His gallery was the address artists could write to for an entry blank.

[xiv] Exhibition Momentum jurors included Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Clement Greenberg, Philip Guston, Sam Hunter, Robert Motherwell, Sidney Janis, Franz Kline, Betty Parsons, Jackson Pollock, Ad Reinhardt, Jack Tworkov and Max Weber among others.

[xv] Letter to Jack Tworkov from Sheila Hori, Corresponding Secretary for Exhibition Momentum Membership: “The membership of Exhibition Momentum has voted to ask you to serve as one of three jurors for their 1956 show of contemporary art.” Courtesy of the Estate of Jack Tworkov and the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[xvi] A. James Speyer, “Chicago: More Momentum,” Art News, March 1956.

[xvii] Edith Weigle, “Let’s Give Chicago Artists a Chance,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, part 7, 6.

[xviii] Doris Lane Butler, “Vim, Vigor, Vitality in ‘Vanguard’ Display.” Chicago Daily News, Friday, September 27, 1957, 30.

[xix] Franz Schulze, “Art News from Chicago,” Art News, September 1958, 45.

[xx] John Chamberlain, Sculpture, Wells Street Gallery, September 13-October 3, 1957.

[xxi] Judith Dolnick, interview by the author, West Redding, CT, Friday, November 13, 2009.

[xxii] Doris Lane Butler, “Vim, Vigor, Vitality in ‘Vanguard’ Display,” Chicago Daily News, Friday, September 27, 1957, 30.

[xxiii] Gerald Van de Wiele: Paintings, Wells Street Gallery, October 4-October 24.

[xxiv] Vincent Katz, ed. Black Mountain College: Experiment in Art. (MA: MIT Press, 2003), 205.

[xxv] Robert Natkin: Paintings, Drawings, Collage, Wells Street Gallery, October 25-November 14.

[xxvi] Van de Wiele became a close student of Charles Olson during his stay at Black Mountain College. So much so that Olson titled a group of poems after him Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele.

[xxvii] Fuller, op. cit., 272.

[xxviii] Fuller, op. cit., 272.

[xxix] Ernest Dieringer, interview by the author, West Redding, CT, Friday, November 13, 2009.

[xxx] Exhibition Momentum 1957 was held at 72 East 11th Street, Chicago, on November 6-December 10,, 1957.

[xxxi] Doris Lane Butler, “1957 ‘MOMENTUM’ Exhibition Speeds City’s Art Pulse: Show Features Chicago School of Expressionism.” Chicago Daily News, c. November 1957.

[xxxii] Gerry van de Wiele recalls Guston telling him that “the Wells Street Group was doing was far beyond the stuff of the New York School.’ Gerald van de Wiele, interview by the author, New York, NY, November 16, 2009.

[xxxiii] Allen S. Weller, “Chicago: The Momentum show presents the ‘new’ Chicago school.” Art News, November 1957.

[xxxiv] Joshua C. Taylor (1917-1981). American Art history professor at the University of Chicago 1960-1974, and director, National Museum of American Art, 1970-1981.

[xxxv] Harry F. Gaugh, Franz Kline (New York: Abbeville Press Publishing Group, Inc., 1985).

[xxxvi] Noah Goldowsky was an influential art dealer who was instrumental in facilitating the acquisition of de Kooning’s Excavation for the Art Institute (the painting was purchased through the Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Logan Purchase Prize Fund; restricted gifts of Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Noah Goldowsky, Jr.). In 1951 with Aaron Siskind he organized a solo exhibition of Cy Twombly’s work for the Seven Stairs Gallery in Chicago. He later opened the Holland-Goldowsky Gallery in Chicago. Then teamed up with Richard Bellamy to open Richard Bellamy/Noah Goldowsky Gallery in New York in the late 1960’s.

[xxxvii] Gaugh, op. cit.

[xxxviii] Gerald van de Wiele, interview by the author, New York, NY, November 16, 2009.

[xxxix] Judith Dolnick, Ernest Dieringer: Paintings, Wells Street Gallery, November 15-December 4, 1957.

[xl] Fuller, op.cit, 281.

[xli] Ernest Dieringer, e-mail to author, January 9, 2010.

[xlii] Ernest Dieringer e-mail to author, January 10, 2010.

[xliii] Group Show:  Flick, Korzen, Fiore, Wells Street Gallery, December 6-December 31, 1957.

[xliv] Fuller, op.cit, 276.

[xlv] John O’Neal, interview by the author, Brooklyn, NY, January 4, 2010.

[xlvi] Naomi Tatum, e-mail to author, December 13, 2009.

[xlvii] Franz Schulze, Fantastic Images; Chicago Art Since 1945 (Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1972), 21.

[xlviii] Don Vlack: Paintings, Wells Street Gallery, January 3-January 22, 1958. Vlack studied at the University of Illonis, Champagne, where his room mates were Norman Jaffe and Ron Gorchov.

[xlix] Aaron Siskind:  Mexican Photographs, Wells Street Gallery, January 24-February 12, 1958.

[l] Aaron Siskind, interview by Barbara Shikler, New York, NY, September 28, 1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[li] Richard Bogart, interview by the author, West Redding, CT, November 13, 2009.

[lii] Ronald Slowinski: Drawings, Paintings, Wells Street Gallery, July 11-July 30, 1958.

[liii] Paintings and Drawing from Private Collections: Kline, Smith, Pollock, Gorky, Rothko, de Kooning, Wells Street Gallery, September 12-October 22, 1958.

[liv] Doris Lane Butler, “Take in the ‘New York School.” Chicago Daily News, Monday, September 8, 1958, 22.

[lv] Franz Schulze, “Art News from Chicago,” Art News, September 1958, 45.

[lvi] “Muriel Newman did not admire Wells Street painting, but often invited us up to her apartment to see her collection, watch a movie, and serve us Kraft cheese and Ritz crackers.” John O’Neal, e-mail to author, January 10, 2010.

[lvii] John O’Neal, interview by the author, Brooklyn, NY, January 4, 2010.

[lviii] “The Well Street Gallery Closes.” Chicago Daily News, March 30, 1959.

[lix] Franz Schulze, Fantastic Images; Chicago Art Since 1945 (Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1972), 21.

[lx] Fuller, op.cit, 276.

[lxi] Fuller, op.cit, 281.

[lxii] Franz Schulze, Fantastic Images; Chicago Art Since 1945 (Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1972), 27.

[lxiii] Franz Schulze, “Surprises that Bloom in the Spring,” Art News, c. Spring 1961.

[lxiv] Interview with Elinor Poindexter conducted by Paul Cummings, September 9, 1970, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

[lxv] Leo Castelli exhibited the work of John Chamberlain quite regularly through the early 1960s. Chamberlain’s his first one-person exhibition at the gallery was held January 13-February 6, 1962. Gerald van de Wiele exhibited with the gallery for a short time.  His first one-person exhibition was held December 8, 1962-January 9, 1963.





Group Showing: Contemporary American Artists, Bogart, Campagna, Chamberlain, Dieringer, Dolnick, Field, Korzen, Mattingly, McWhinney, Natkin, Siskind, Sourelis, Stout, Van de Wiele, Vlack

August 23-Septebmer 12

John Chamberlain: Sculpture

September 13-October 3

Gerald Van de Wiele: Paintings

October 4-October 24

Robert Natkin: Paintings, Drawings, Collage

October 25-November 14

Judith Dolnick, Ernest Dieringer: Paintings

November 15-December 4

Group Show:  Flick, Korzen, Fiore

December 6-December 31


Don Vlack: Paintings

January 3-January 22

Aaron Siskind:  Mexican Photographs

January 24-February 12

Stanley Sourelis: Paintings, Drawings

February 14-March 5

Ann Mattkingly: Paintings

March 7-March 26

Richard Bogart: Paintings

March 28-April 16

Drawings 1958

April 18-May 7

Paul Campagna: Architecture

May 9-May 28

Group Show: Paintings, George Cohen, Ernest Dieringer,

Judith Dolnick, Diane Lachow, Ann Mattingly, Robert Natkin, Peter Passuntino,

Stanley Sourelis, Gerald Van de Wiele, Donald Vlack

May 30-July 9

Ronald Slowinski: Drawings

Paintings, July 11-July 30

Paintings and Drawing from Private Collections:

Kline, Smith, Pollock, Gorky, Rothko, de Kooning

September 12-October 22

Stanley Korzen

October 24-November 19

Sourelis, Natkin

November 21-December 17

Judith Dolnick and Kenneth Burge, Drawings and Paintings

December 19, 1958-January 11, 1959


Donald Vlack and Ronald Slowinski

January 15-February 11

Joseph Makler, Richard Slowinski, Ernest Dieringer

February 13-March 3

Ronald Slowinski and Joseph Makler

March 5-April 1


Many individuals deserve great thanks for their cooperation and support of this essay and corresponding exhibition. First and foremost, much gratitude and praise to Lesley Heller for the opportunity to inaugurate her new space with this historic exhibition. It has been an honor working with her and the fulfillment of a dream to mount an exhibition of the Wells Street Group. Many thanks to the lenders to this show namely Robert Naktin + Judith Dolnick, Robert Mann Gallery, Gebert Contemporary, Estate of Jack Tworkov, and the artists themselves.

Many thanks also to Judith Dolnick for her encouragement and support; Ann Mattingly for her archive of nearly everything Wells Street; Ernest Dieringer for his enthusiasm; and the rest of the Wells Street Group who offered their time and their stories. I’m grateful to Julia K. Gleich for her editorial eye, Ryan Schroeder for his assistance with installation, Hermine Ford for more than just the use of her van, and my assistant Kate Wadkins for her presence throughout. Lastly I would like to thank my great friend Bob Natkin for his commitment to art and his ability to break out in spontaneous song. This exhibition is for him.

All rights reserved to the copyright owners. No part of this essay may be reproduced without written permission from the author.


Jason Andrew

Jason Andrew is a Brooklyn-based art activist.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2010

All Issues