Byron Browne, American, 1907-1961
Figure C:1936 • Ink, tempera, casein and pencil 21" x 14"
Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Purchased by the Canton Museum of Art, 87.1
In 1940, Byron Browne led an artist’s march up Fifth Avenue in New York City to protest the Museum of Modern Art’s lack of abstract art. Nothing in the public record shows if their signs were too abstract to be read.
Byron Browne’s founding membership in the American Abstract Artists (AAA) must have been odd given his aversion to wholly abstract art as practiced by the leading Abstract Expressionists of his day. They weren’t too fond of him either. There was something about him that always seemed to be the iron filing stuck in the pull between two magnets. One magnet was the French Renaissance Master, Ingres. The other was Picasso, the early master of Modern Art. Browne’s love of both created a tension in his life and work.
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But, let’s go back to that 1940 march around the Museum of Modern Art. There were about 50 other artists who participated. One was, Rosalind Bengelsdorf, Browne’s fellow member of the Artists Union, another political club he was associated with. By the time they picketed the Museum of Modern Art in support of abstract art, the two had fallen in love and married. In short order they decided there was room for only one painter in the family and her career went on hold while a family was raised. Again, tradition.
To Browne, art had little value if it wasn’t rooted, in some way, to nature. “When I hear the words ‘non-objective,’ ‘intra-subjective,’ ‘avant-garde’ and such trivialities, I run. There is only visible nature.”
And yet, Browne was certainly thought of as one of the leading avant-garde artists of his day. How do you solve a riddle like Byron Browne?
Perhaps we shouldn’t even try. After all, what good is a world without men who teach themselves the bagpipes and march across sand dunes in full highland fling. In a ham and eggs world, it’s good to know there was room for someone like Browne whose total daily intake, according to his wife, consisted of a quart of milk, a head of lettuce, a box of cornmeal and some raisins.
Byron Browne died at the young age of 54 on Christmas Day, when we traditionally celebrate birth. After his untimely death his wife resumed the painting career she had put on hold.
Tradition vs. Eccentricity. Old vs. New. Yin-Yang, Byron Browne. His story was much too short.
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“He helped found the American Abstract Artists organization, but the Abstract Expressionists of his day didn’t think his work was abstract enough. Sometimes you can’t win.”
“He once picketed the Museum of Modern Art for not being modern enough. Sometimes you can’t win.”
“He despised the word ‘avant-garde’ but was thought of as one of the leading avant-garde artists of his day. Sometimes you can’t win.”
“The Museum of Modern Art held a major exhibition of his work in 1951. Sometimes you win.”