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Art & Art History

From the Periodic Table

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Wednesday, May 09, 1990–Friday, May 18, 1990
Gallery 400
400 South Peoria Street, Chicago, IL 60607

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Gallery 400 is pleased to organize a unique exhibition entitled From the Periodic Table, featuring the pastels of the American artist Irving Petlin, based on the award-winning book by the Italian author/chemist/Holocaust survivor Primo Levi. Inspired by the suicide of Primo Levi in April 1987, From the Periodic Table comprises a series of twenty-one original pastels created by the artist and completed in the summer of 1988 after several years of research. These images combine the unusual mastery of one of America’s foremost artists in the drawing medium of pastel with one of the great literary figures of the twentieth century. The resulting exhibition was an interdisciplinary inquiry into parallel histories and layers of meaning and metaphor that combined literature, history, culture, drawing, as well as the language of the plastic arts. Since pastel is largely derived from minerals of the earth, it seemed an appropriate metaphorical substance for Petlin with which to portray his impressions of Primo Levi as well as his memory of growing up in a Jewish community in Chicago during World War II.

Petlin earned a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1956 and an MFA under the tutelage of Josef Albers at Yale in 1960. To accompany the exhibition, Gallery 400 has published the catalogue From the Periodic Table, partially funded by Kent Fine Art, New York.

Irving Petlin (born 1934) grew up in Chicago with his Polish Jewish parents who had fled Europe right after the end of World War I. He attended classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he first came in contact with the work of Odilon Redon. Petlin served in the army in the late 1950s and shortly after, became a visiting artist at the University of California–Los Angeles. Petlin worked on a number of important political works during the next few years, such as The Burning of Los Angeles (1965–67) and the Los Angeles Peace Tower (1966). He has since moved to New York, where he continues to work with pastels. Petlin’s previous show was at Galleria La Parisina in Turin, Italy. He received a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1956) and an MFA from Yale (1960).