Charles Seliger, Winterscape: Interior of a Cocoon (Paesaggio invernale: interno
di un bozzolo)
, 1948-49, Enamel, paint, tempera, and ink on paper, 32.9 x 27 cm, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Gift, Dr. Alexandra Adler, 1985. 85.3291.

Charles Seliger, Biomorphic Series, Organic Form #4 (Serie biomorfica, forma organica #4), 1944, India ink and white tempera on paper, 27.9 x 35.6 cm, Estate of Charles Seliger.

Charles Seliger's Skyrocketing Surrealist Practice in the 1940s

Charles Seliger, The Last Cyclops (L’ultimo ciclope), 1944, Oil on canvas, 55.9 x 55.9 cm, Collection of Marjorie and Michael Levine, New York.

Charles Seliger, Sex, Evolution and the Man (Sesso, evoluzione e l’uomo), 1944, Ink, watercolor, and collage on paper, 30.5 x 22.9 cm, Estate of Charles Seliger.

Charles Seliger, Cerebral Landscape (Paesaggio cerebrale), 1944, Oil on canvas, 61.4 x 46.2 cm, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Zalstem-Salessky.

Charles Seliger, Orator (Oratore), 1945, Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 76.2 cm, Collection of Dennis Alter.


Peggy Guggenheim Collection
701 Dorsoduro
+ 041 2405 411
Seeing the World Within:
Charles Seliger in the 1940s

Curated by Jonathan Stuhlman
June 9-September 16, 2012

“I found a wonderful phrase … which I think states the nature of my painting in a most exact way: ‘The Structure of Becoming,’ two aspects of my work, so clear to me … My paintings are always concerned with the most minute relationships and structure yet always remain in flux, in a state of becoming, never (in spite of the intensity and detail) to arrive at a final and recognizable form.”

— Charles Seliger, journal entry, December 1, 1980

This exhibition brings to Venice and to Italy for the first time a corpus of works — 33 paintings and drawings — by American Surrealist painter, Charles Seliger (1926-2009), working in the 1940s, the beginning of his career, that trace his rapid development from youthful enthusiasm and talent to a mature artist, confident in his own, original artistic vision.

As an adolescent Seliger showed a precocious interest in painting and modern art. By the time he was 20 he had developed a vocabulary and syntax of his own which were to be the basis of his future career. The fantastic imagery, inventive processes and creative freedom peculiar to Surrealism enthralled him, and led him, between 1942 and 1950, the period to which the works in this exhibition belong, towards his own aesthetic maturity. Seliger’s theory and practice were profoundly indebted to Surrealist themes and to Surrealist automatism as a key to unlocking the creative impulse. Convinced of the inadequacy of normal vision to apprehend reality in its totality, he set out to paint the invisible. Seliger visualizes a natural world that is concealed from the human eye: biological structures, cells, organic viscera, and bones. In the same decade he acquired an interest, that was to endure his entire life, in the concept of metamorphosis, which was central to Surrealism. His images expresses profundity and interiority, as metaphors for the unconscious. He was if anything closer to true Surrealism than his contemporaries, many of whom were later to figure as American Abstract Expressionists. Despite his participation in the artistic climate that gave rise to Abstract Expressionism (New York in the early 1940s), Seliger developed a distinctive content, style and aesthetic of his own. Rarely has an a artist matured so fast and so successfully at such an early age: slow motion images of the micro-world that surrounds us and of which we are made. In 1945 (October 30-November 17) Peggy Guggenheim gave Seliger his first solo exhibition, in her New York gallery Art of This Century. He was just 19 years old.

This exhibition follows the swift evolution in which Seliger boldly experimented a variety of approaches to the making of his art. Given the times in which he grew up one can but agree with John Yau who has written: “In hindsight, it seems remarkable that Seliger was never overwhelmed by the circle of brilliant older artists to which he belonged. Despite the heady artistic and literary milieu in which he moved, he was able to establish and pursue his own direction.” (Quoted from John Yau, Charles Seliger: Chaos to Complexity, New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2003). The paintings exhibited in this exhibition constituted the fertile ground from which grew a 60-year career, the importance and brilliance of which are still to be discovered.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with texts in both English and Italian by the curator Jonathan Stuhlman and Michelle Dubois.

Seeing the World Within: Charles Seliger in the 1940s is made possible through support from the Mint Museum Auxiliary and awards from the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Dedalus Foundation. It has been organized by the Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. It travels first to Munson-Williams Proctor Art Institute, Utica, New York (October 20-January20, 2013). With the support of Corriere della Sera, Radio Italia is media partner are. Hangar Design Group has designed the exhibition communications.

Charles Seliger, Sentinel (Sentinella), 1947, Oil on canvas, 85.1 x 75 cm, Collection of Elaine Weitzen.

Charles Seliger, Gustave Stresemann (Gustave Stresemann), 1942, Oil on canvasboard, 38.1 x 30.5 cm, Estate of Charles Seliger.

Charles Seliger, Interior Space (Spazio interior), 1944, Oil on canvas, 91.4 x 38.1 cm, Estate of Charles Seliger.

Charles Seliger, Don Quixote (Don Chisciotte), 1944, Oil on canvas, 76.2 x 101.6 cm, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Elaine Graham Weitzen.


Charles Seliger, Homage to Erasmus Darwin (Omaggio a Erasmus Darwin), 1945-46, Oil on canvas, 90.8 x 70.5 cm, University of Iowa Art Gallery.