717 Fifth Avenue is a prestigious address in the Midtown East neighborhood of Manhattan, at the cross street of East 56th Street.
Known as The Corning Glass Building/Steuben Glass Building, 717 Fifth was designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, who also designed Lincoln Center and the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld Library Building. A highly innovative approach for its time, 717 was the first glass curtain wall skyscraper on Fifth Avenue.
In 1959, a gold-leaf mural by Bauhaus artist Josef Albers, Two Structural Constellations, was engraved in the lobby of the building. Between 1993 and 1994, the firm Gwathmey Siegel Architects renovated the dramatic two-story lobby and common areas.
In 2015, Chinese insurance group Anbang purchased 717 Fifth Avenue.
Art Assets has been curating exhibitions at 717 since 1994. The first 10 exhibits were based on Albers, his materials, designs, contemporaries, his students, and his students as teachers. Recent exhibitions have included Andy Warhol’s Private Polaroid Collection, in collaboration with Christie’s, and painter David Row, in collaboration with Loretta Howard Gallery.
For the current exhibition, Art Assets suggested several artists whose work would complement the existing Albers mural while embracing the prestige of the address, reflecting the high caliber of previous exhibitions, and announcing the new ownership of Anbang Insurance Group. The works considered included Chinese-American artists, as well as Western artists whose work retained a Chinese influence. Ultimately, Art Assets and the Client selected the late Cleve Gray (b. 1918 – d. 2004), an abstract expressionist painter whose interest in Chinese painting and calligraphy is reflected in much of his later work, including the series on view at 717 Fifth.
This exhibition is a collaboration between Art Assets and Loretta Howard Gallery, which represents the estate of Cleve Gray.
Born in New York City in 1918, Cleve Gray began his formal art training early, at the age of 11. In 1940, he earned a degree in Art and Archeology from Princeton University, where he wrote his thesis on Yuan Dynasty landscape painting. Gray’s interest in Chinese painting and calligraphy is reflected in much of his later work.
During WWII, Gray served in the US Army, stationed in Britain, France, and Germany. After the liberation of Paris, he was the first American GI to greet Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein. After the war, he continued his art training in Paris with French modernist pioneers André Lhote and Jacques Villon, who directly influenced Gray’s early work.
Gray initially resisted the abstract expressionist movement, focusing instead on cubism. But upon befriending American artist Barnett Newman, he experienced an artistic metamorphosis, dissolving his earlier compositions in a sea of distilled color. This dramatic body of work marked the beginning of an artistic meditation that would last for over 40 years. The rigors of French modernism, the ethos of Abstract Expressionism, and the calligraphic restraint of Eastern art commingle with astounding effect.
In addition to his painting, the artist was also a contributing editor for Art in America from 1960 onward, and published three books on artists David Smith, John Marin, and Hans Richter.
Gray’s work is represented in a number of important public collections, including the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, The Brooklyn Museum, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Smithsonian, The Jewish Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Museum of Modern Art, The Newark Museum, The Phillips Collection, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.