January 2020: Steven Harvey Fine Arts Project presents “POST”

Featuring works by Gandy Brodie, Lester Johnson, Earl Kerkam, Elaine de Kooning, June Leaf, Jan Müller, Bob Thompson from January 4 – February 9, 2020

208 Forsyth Street, New York, NY 10002
info@shfap.com – 917-861-7312

Be sure to read John Yau’s article “A Not Completely Lost History” in Hyperallergic, January 18, 2020.

Mulberry Street, 1963, oil on canvas Lester Johnson

Mulberry Street, 1963, oil on canvas Lester Johnson

July 2019: Julie Keyes Gallery Sag Harbor features Lester Johnson

45 Main St. Sag Harbor, NY 11963  (631) 808-3588 showing a group of Lester Johnson paintings, including Archway, from 1964 oil on canvas, 58×80″

2017: Lester Johnson from the Permanent Collection, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, MA, January 20 – March 26, 2017


Lester Johnson from the Permanent Collection

January 20 – March 26, 2017

Curated by: Christine McCarthy
Opening Reception: Friday, February 17, 6pm

About the Exhibition

PAAM is pleased to showcase watercolors and block prints created by Lester Johnson. Gifted to the PAAM permanent collection in 2016 by Josephine Johnson, this unprecedented body of work explores how the sights of Provincetown informed the development of Johnson’s unique and important visual voice. Lester’s roots in Provincetown go back to 1953, when he had his first show at Earle Pilgrim’s shop at 393 Commercial Street. Throughout the next decade he would go on to have five one-man annual exhibitions at the Sun Gallery as well as several exhibitions at the HCE Gallery. Johnson’s work was also exhibited at the Albert Merola Gallery, Acme Fine Art and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

Lester Johnson was born in 1919 in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the youngest of seven and grandchild of Swedish Homesteaders. After studying at the Minneapolis School of Art, and the St. Paul Art School, he came, in 1947, to New York City. His first studio (and home) was next door to Wolf Kahn on 6th Street and Avenue A, followed by a loft on St. Mark’s Place which he shared with Larry Rivers. He married Josephine Valenti, an art historian, in 1949, and moved into a house on 2nd Ave and 2nd Street – which was shared, again, with Wolf Kahn. After moving uptown, he continued to work downtown, in a studio on 222 Bowery. In 1961, he briefly left the city for an artist-in-residence position at Ohio State. After returning, and while sharing a studio on 10th St. with Philip Pearlstein, he was invited by Jack Tworkov to teach at Yale. He accepted and he and his wife, with their two children, Leslie and Anthony, moved to Milford, CT, where he taught and continued to paint in a studio behind their house. Summers were spent in Springs, Long Island (where Lester and Jo bought property in 1955), throughout his time at Yale as well as after moving to Greenwich, CT. Later, he had four grandchildren: Stephanie, Julia, Nicholas, and Abby. Johnson lived briefly in Southampton where he died in 2010.

PAAM extends its deepest gratitude to the family of Lester Johnson for their generosity in recognizing the significance of this important gift.

Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965, Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, NY, January 10-April 1, 2017


Between the apex of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop Art and Minimalism, the New York art scene was transformed by artist-run galleries. Inventing Downtown presents works from fourteen of these crucibles of experimentation, highlighting artists’ efforts to create new exhibition venues for innovative works of art—ranging from abstract and figurative painting, assemblage, sculpture, and works on paper to groundbreaking installations and performances.

Inventing Downtown proposes viewing these fourteen galleries via five thematic groupings. Leaving Midtown focuses on three Tenth Street galleries which adopted a cooperative business structure where expenses were shared among elected members: Tanager Gallery, Hansa Gallery, and Brata Gallery. City as Muse features four ventures that did not adopt the co-op model: City Gallery, Reuben Gallery,  Delancey Street Museum, and Judson Gallery. They are best known for creating dynamic installations and pioneering performances. Space and Time investigates two significant artist-run projects, 112 Chambers Street and 79 Park Place, which occupied different conceptual terrains, embraced a wide range of media, and shared an interest in exploring temporality and geo-spatial dimensions. Politics as Practice includes four groups: March Group,  Judson Church’s Hall of Issues, The Center, and Spiral Group, which examined the viability of politics as a subject for art and channeled a new sense of social urgency in addressing Cold War politics, the civil rights movement, and the legacy of World War II, among other concerns. Finally, Defining Downtown looks at the Green Gallery, which played a decisive role in bringing downtown uptown and fostering the rise of Pop and Minimalism.  Its program, however, resulted in the narrowing of aesthetic possibilities and the marginalization of many artists.

Artist-run galleries shaped American art irreversibly. After 1965, New York’s uptown and downtown art scenes increasingly diverged, which led to the flowering of nonprofit downtown alternative spaces. Although more than half a century has passed since the era of Inventing Downtown, many of the issues mined in the exhibition still resonate in today’s art world—split as it is between the booming commercial market for contemporary art and ever more pluralistic models of artistic production, promotion, and display.

Inventing Downtown is curated by Melissa Rachleff, clinical associate professor in NYU’s Steinhardt School.

Galleries and Artists in the Exhibition

Starts Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017
Ends Saturday, Apr 01, 2017
Curator Melissa Rachleff
Organized by Grey Art Gallery, NYU
CreditsInventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965 is organized by the Grey Art Gallery, New York University, and curated by Melissa Rachleff. Its presentation is made possible in part by the generous support of the Terra Foundation for American Art; the Henry Luce Foundation; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the S. & J. Lurje Memorial Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Boris Lurie Art Foundation; the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation; the Art Dealers Association Foundation; Ann Hatch; the Oded Halahmy Foundation for the Arts; Arne and Milly Glimcher; The Cowles Charitable Trust; and the Japan Foundation. The publication is supported by a grant from Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Additional support is provided by the Grey Art Gallery’s Director’s Circle, Inter/National Council, and Friends; and the Abby Weed Grey Trust.

Lester Johnson in Provincetown, Acme Fine Art, Boston, May 20 – July 2, 2016



20 May—2 July 2016

Lester Johnson Provincetown Watercolor



ACME Fine Art’s forthcoming exhibition, titled LESTER JOHNSON IN PROVINCETOWN, traces the relationship between one of America’s pre-eminent Figurative Expressionist artists, and the place that has been called the most important summer art colony in America, Provincetown, Massachusetts. The watercolors and ink works making up the exhibition were selected from the artist’s estate by Gallery Director David Cowan. Collectively they chronicle Johnson’s response to the landscape that surrounded him during his summers in the art colony during the 1950s, and reveal how the sights of Provincetown informed the development of his unique and important visual voice.

In the 1950s, Abstract Expressionism, as the dominant movement of the time, drove the direction of the New York art scene. Lester Johnson was one of a few artists to deviate, and resist the pull towards the completely non-objective, painterly abstraction that had become mainstream in Manhattan. Instead, his focus became the human figure, and he harnessed the visual language of the Expressionist movement to produce works of bold, unflinching energy and strength that ultimately made him famous as one of the premier artists of the Figurative Expressionist Movement.

There was little space for these renegade artists within the New York gallery scene, which remained focused on non-objective painting, and subsequently, the emerging Pop-Art movement. Provincetown, with its long history as a refuge for avant-garde communities and artists, became a natural gathering place for these figurative painters. The beauty of the landscape, paired with the low rents and ready availability of part time jobs supporting the tourist industry, made the art colony an attractive option for artists who had yet to find commercial success.  Thus, Johnson, and other artists like him, including Bob Thompson and Jan Muller, escaped the city and returned each summer to Provincetown.

A new venture, named “The Sun Gallery,” located at 393 Commercial Street, became the locus around which this new experimental group of painters formed. There, the owners, artists Dominic Falcone and Yvonne Anderson, were dedicated to new art that ventured beyond the limits set by Abstract Expressionism. Johnson spent summers there from 1951 to 1961, and in 1957 the gallery recognized him with a retrospective exhibition that tracked the evolution of his mature style.

The upcoming exhibit at ACME Fine Art also looks to reflect on Johnson’s years in Provincetown. Many of the watercolors collected for this exhibition have never been shown before, and present a unique opportunity to tie Johnson’s stylistic development directly to the landscape that surrounded him during those formative years. In these works, the piers and many boats that crowded Provincetown harbor are depicted with a kind of primal, gestural line that came to define his later figures. The black and white ink landscapes, including the crowded and dark Landscape with Boat, foreshadow the psychological content of his later work. Others, such as Ocean, showcase Johnson’s brilliant handling of color and interest in pattern, which reemerged in his work in the 1970s.

LESTER JOHNSON IN PROVINCETOWN will open on 20 May 2015, and be on view in ACME Fine Art’s 450 Harrison Street gallery until 2 July 2016. This special exhibition is being mounted as a benefit for the Fine Arts Work Center  in Provincetown, MA. The Fine Arts Work Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated  to encouraging the growth and development of emerging visual artists and writers and to restoring the year-round vitality of the historic art colony of Provincetown. A portion of all sales proceeds throughout the duration of the exhibition will be donated to the Fine Arts Work Center. A special ticketed Preview Event will be held on Thursday, 19 May, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m, with cocktails and nibbles provided by MAX Ultimate. Tickets will be available for purchase through the Fine Arts Work Center at web.fawc.org.


Lester Johnson: Paintings & Works on Paper 1960-1985, David Klein Gallery, Birmingham, September 10 – October 29, 2016



2014: Self Portrait in Red #1, 1959-61, gift to Provincetown Art Association and Museum

2014:  Self Portrait in Red #1, 1959-61, oil on canvas, 56×69 inches has been given to the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) in Provincetown, MA.   Lester and Josephine spent many happy years in Provincetown beginning in the 1950s.   Lester’s first shows were at the Earl Pilgrim Gallery in 1951, and then at the Sun Gallery in 1952.

Lester Johnson – Dark Paintings at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York, NY October 2013

Lester Johnson Press Release_SHFAP_Sept 22208 Forsyth Street, NY, NY  10002

October 16 to November 17th, 2013

Pioneers From Provincetown: The Roots of Figurative Expressionism at Provincetown Art Association and Museum, July 2013

“From the Bowery to Bushwick” EtAl Projects, Brooklyn, NY, January 2013

et al projects | 56 Bogart Street | Brooklyn | NY | 11206
info@etalprojects.com | 914.498.8328 | etalprojects.com

et al projects is pleased to present From the Bowery to Bushwick a special exhibition
of Three Men in Hats, 1964 a seminal painting by Lester Johnson.
Lester Johnson (1919-2010) was an artist from the Second Generation of Abstract
Expressionism spending his time between New York City’s Lower East Side and the
summer art colony of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Johnson was an influential painter
who challenged the Abstract authority, with an avant-garde manifestation of expressionism,
using the figure as the key structural element in his compositions.
Scenes in Johnson’s paintings transcend psychical life and are an exposure to the psyche
of contemporary life. There is a combination of tightness and looseness, colors, textures,
scale and subject. Visual archetypes are often apparent and evoke classical forms in
contemporary climates. Bodies are massed together in throngs of simultaneous behavior
each isolated within a vast group of figures, poignantly blended into the paint.
Three Men in Hats (1964) is one of Johnson’s exemplary paintings during the time he had a
studio on the Bowery, and could witness the movement and interactions of people in the
Lower East Side neighborhood. Three dark silhouettes of men in bowler hats move from
right to left on the canvas plane and crowd and press together to form a tension in the
closeness of the figures.
The brims of their hats align with one another, however their shoulders do not, suggesting
that these men are in motion. The three figures are pushing against the surface and span
the width of the canvas, and appear almost about to walk right off the plane. The painting
should bring about a familiar emotion amongst many New Yorkers of all generations.

opening reception: Friday, January 25, 6-9pm
on view: January 25, 2013 – February 3, 2013
Lester Johnson (1919-2010). His works are included in such public collections as the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of Art, and the
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, among many others.
For more information, please contact info@etalprojects.com. The gallery is located in the
arts building of 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn and open to the public Thursday –
Sunday, 1pm – 6pm.

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