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Edward Biberman (American 1904 – 1986)

Street Cleaners, c. 1940s, oil on canvas, signed lower right, 28 ¾ x 42 inches, Gallery Z labels verso; exhibited in When Artists Became Workers: The People’s Art Movement of the ‘30s & ‘40s, Works by Jewish Artists in California Collections, Judah L. Magnes Museum, University of California, Berkeley, December 8, 1996 to March 30, 1997 (listed in catalog); illustrated (film) Kaufman, Jeffrey, Brush with Life: The Art of Being Edward Biberman, 2007, (DVD release 2010), 85 minutes

Price On Request

About the Painting

Street Cleaners is a light-hearted, but thoughtful, American Scene painting by Edward Biberman. In many cases, Biberman’s optimism was reserved for his sun-drenched architectural paintings of Southern California, while his figural works were often hard-hitting in-your-face compositions addressing fundamental questions of human rights. This work mediates between the two extremes. In Street Cleaners, we see a group of Black laborers smiling and laughing as an older White man, presumably their supervisor, stands by looking displeased. It appears that the workers are sharing a story or a joke at the expense of their boss. Biberman turns the tables on the conventional 1940s view of race. Here, the workers are not in the minority. Rather, they are the majority, and the White supervisor is the odd man out. Biberman was a progressive, left leaning, and socially conscious artist, who portrayed the Black community with dignity and respect. Throughout his career, Biberman was fascinated with Labor. Whether depicting a Hollywood studio strike, a Labor Day parade, the construction of a building, or the brutality of labor suppression, Biberman conveys the humanity of his workers through careful and disciplined drawing and unique coloration.

About the Artist

Edward Biberman was born in Philadelphia, the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. His artistic career started at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts followed by three years of study in Paris, where he associated closely with Calder and Noguchi and exhibited at the Salon d'Automne, Grand Palais, in 1927 and the Salon des Independents in 1929. Upon his return to the United States, Biberman spent time in New York City, where he showed at many of the city’s premier galleries and museums. His works were selected for several of the Museum of Modern Art’s early exhibitions of American artists, including 46 Painters and Sculptors Under the Age of 35 (1930) and Murals by American Painters and Photographers (1932). Hoping to escape the pressures of the New York art world, Biberman moved to Los Angeles in 1936 where he could be close to his family, including his film director brother, Herbert Biberman, and his sister-in-law, the Academy Award winning actress, Gale Sondergaard.

During the course of his long career, Biberman showed at the Salon d’Automne (Paris); Whitney Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Corcoran Gallery, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and dozens of other museums and galleries across the US and in Europe. Biberman completed three murals for public works projects, including his work Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice for the Venice Post Office, which was installed for six months at LACMA in 2014. His works are in the permanent collections of more than a dozen museums, including the National Portrait Gallery (of the Smithsonian Institution), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Butler Institute of American Art, and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Several books are dedicated to Biberman’s art, as is a feature length documentary, Brush with Life: The Art of Being Edward Biberman (2007). Biberman’s art has undergone a resurgence of popularity during the past fifteen years with four solo or focused exhibitions, Edward Biberman Revisited (2009), Edward Biberman (2011-12), Lost Horizons: Mural Dreams of Edward Biberman (2014) and Edward Biberman, Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice (2014), and representation in a number of other exhibitions, such as To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America at the Smithsonian Institution and other institutions (2011), Pacific Standard Time (2012), Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists (2018),Black American Portraits (2021) at LACMA, Encounters in American Realism (2022) at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art and Art for the People WPA Paintings from the Dijkstra Collection (2023) at the Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento, CA), Oceanside Museum o f Art (Oceanside, CA) and The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens (San Marino, CA).

Biberman’s brand of modernism can fairly be divided into four categories 1) precisionist urban scenes of New York and Southern California which celebrate the creations of humanity; 2) portraits which expose not only the historical context, but also the souls, of his subjects; 3) rural landscapes and still life paintings which portray the beauty of America and its flora; and 4) social realist works which explore the struggles, hopes and shortcomings of our society. Regardless of genre, Biberman had a unique sense of structure and color. His figures are at the same time specific and universal. Taken as a whole, Biberman’s body of work presents the viewer with a compelling and often daring vision of 20th century America and its art.


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