Blum & Poe, in collaboration with the Karel Appel Foundation, is presenting its second exhibition of the Dutch artist Karel Appel. Titled Out of Nature, the show presents a series of works that were completed in New York City in the 1990s. Never before seen publicly, they harken back to paintings the artist created toward the beginning of his career in the 1950s with their use of bright colors and abstract forms. However, they are much larger in scale than those earlier works, and this show can be seen as continuing the mission of his foundation to rethink the interpretation of his work and place in the history of art.
Known primarily as a founder of the CoBrA movement, which stood for from Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, Appel’s early works rejected rationalism and geometric abstraction, and wanted to experiment with spontaneity. He was drawn toward children’s artwork, because it was instinctual and expressed emotions while rejecting a sophisticated aesthetic. His early work shows a melding of the lines between abstraction and representation by depicting figures in simplistic forms usually in bright primary colors. These works from the 1990s exhibited in Out of Nature show a referencing of that period, but are much larger in scale – they are painted on five foot canvases.
Out of Nature, 1995, Oil on canvas, 60 1/4 x 48 x 2 inches, © 2018 Karel Appel
Out of Nature, 1996, oil on canvas, 60 1/4 x 48 x 1 3/4 inches, © 2018 Karel Appel
In the space at Blum & Poe the paintings are not given much room to breathe, and as the viewer moves from one to the next they feel the intense emotions of the expressive brushstrokes. The white spaces between the works are barely wide enough to catch a breathe before moving onto the next painting. Insanity was a key theme for Appel, and this interest expresses itself here not only in the large, gestural brushstrokes, but also in the feeling it impresses on its visitors. Appel once noted, “Painting, like passion, is an emotion full of truth and rings a living sound, like the roar coming from the lion’s breast,” and after leaving the exhibition one feels the vibrations of that roar in their being.  
Since its founding in 1999, The Karel Appel Foundation has been working to present new ways of thinking about the artist’s work. To this end, they have worked with museums and galleries to display his oeuvre in a new light.  In 2016, the organization curated a retrospective with Gemeentemuseum in the Netherlands to show a more expansive view of his work including landscapes, portraits and sculptures. Part of their mission is to also get more traction for the artist in the art market, which explains their relationship with Blum & Poe. This exhibit follows a show in 2014 where some large and more important works were sold by the gallery. By keeping his name out there and showing his work in fresh ways, art enthusiasts will continue to learn more about Appel and appreciate his impact on 20th century art.
– Sarah McMillian