Benjamin Benno (1901-1980)

Benno was born in America of Russian-Jewish heritage and on the death of his mother in 1905 was sent to Russia. He was raised there by his maternal grandparents until his father brought him to New York in 1912.

His father enrolled him in the Ferrer Modern School. There Benno had the opportunity to study art with Robert Henri and George Bellows and to become immersed in the art community that flourished around the Ferrer Center. That community included members of the Alfred Stieglitz Circle such as Abraham Walkowitz and Man Ray. . . Benno's first one-man exhibition at the New Gallery in 1923 resulted in his gaining the patronage of the gallery's president, George S. Hellman. In 1926, with the help of Hellman and other collectors, Benno was able to travel to Paris, where he remained until 1939. In Paris, Benno made important contacts: artists such as Jacques Lipchitz, Marcel Duchamp, and Julio Gonzalez (who introduced him to Picasso) were part of his circle. By 1930 Benno's work began to reveal his exposure to artists such as Picasso, Redon, and Arp. He experimented with Picasso's blue-and pink-period works, the soft modulated colors of Redon, and the biomorphism of Arp. He also looked carefully at de Chirico's spatial and iconographical poetry. Benno's open-mindedness was seemingly without limit. . . . Thus, when Duchamp introduced Benno to Kandinsky in 1935, Benno responded not just to the potential of Kandinsky's spatial concepts to loosen the rigid cubist framework of his abstract work, but also to Kandinsky's early improvisational linear effects. . . Benno's synthesis of the extemporaneous and the geometric aspects of Kandinsky's work is unique for the period and indeed prefigures similar breakthroughs by Gorky and Pollock.

Source: Gail Leven and Marianne Lorenz, Theme & Improvisation: Kandinsky & the American Avant-Garde, 1912-1950, 1992, Dayton Art Institute, pages 187-188).