The Sabbath of History: William Congdon | Meditations on Holy Week

February 22–September 16, 2012

William Congdon (1912–1998) is regarded as one of the foremost painters of his generation. In the 1950s, his expressive images of urban landscapes caught the attention of critics and artists alike, who praised the intensity of his vision and his unique form of lyrical abstraction. Working in a cold-water studio on the Bowery, Congdon used spatulas to load his panels with richly colored impasto, into which he incised delicate lines that coalesce to form portraits of urban desolation and post-war anxiety. His first one-man show, at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1949, was lauded by reigning art critic Clement Greenberg who credited his paintings with having "real painterly emotion." In 1951, he was profiled in Life magazine and heralded as "A Remarkable New U.S. Painter." But while Congdon’s achievement as a mid-century action painter is well known, the accomplishments he made in the decades after his early success have gone largely unrecognized.

Although his work is represented in many U.S. collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Yale University Art Gallery, his work is rarely exhibited in the United States. This exhibition, presented on the centennial of the artist’s birth, is the most comprehensive overview of his work to date, with over 65 works ranging from drawings the artist made during World War II to abstract paintings he completed in the final months of his life.

For Congdon, painting was a form of theology and an activity through which a particular kind of devotion could be enacted. His paintings reveal a profound spiritual journey, a struggle whose tensions somehow persist in the complex pictures he made. Congdon repudiated the notion that modern art and spiritual art were incompatible. Through a process of introspection and experimentation, he forged a singular approach to painting that incorporated the physicality and spontaneity of action painting with forms of figuration and landscape.

The lifetime of works that Congdon produced presents a record of one artist’s relentless pursuit of a spiritual art for modern times–a pursuit that yielded an artistic life that was distinctly nonconformist, and an artistic career defined by continual change and continuous production.

The Sabbath of History: William Congdon – Meditations on Holy Week considers the artist’s career in depth and juxtaposes his most renowned works with select passages from “Meditations on Holy Week“ by Father Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, providing an opportunity to follow two routes of liturgical inquiry – one in words and the other in images – toward a better understanding of the ways in which hope is, in Ratzinger’s words, “especially near in the hour of silence and darkness.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that includes a new English translation of Father Joseph Ratzinger’s Meditations on Holy Week and offers an extensive analysis of Congdon’s work and career, with essays by Rodolfo Balzarotti, Susan Greenberg Fisher, Ellen Landau, Daniel Mason, Robert Nelson, Margaret Olin, and Sally Promey, along with a commentary on Ratzinger’s meditations by David L. Schindler.

This exhibition is organized by the Knights of Columbus Museum and the William G. Congdon Foundation, Milan, and co-curated by independent curator and writer Daniel Mason and the Congdon Foundation’s research director, Rodolfo Balzarotti.

Rodolfo Balzaraotti


is an art critic and the research director of the William G. Congdon Foundation, in Milan. He is the author of numerous books and essays, including the monograph William Congdon (with Peter Selz and Fred Licht, Milan, 1992), and Il cantiere dell’artista (The Artist’s Workshop, Milan, 1984). He has contributed to various newspapers and magazines, including the Italian edition of “Communio.” Mr. Balzarotti has been the curator for several exhibitions and catalogues, including Analogia dell’icona, un cammino nell’espressionismo astratto (Museo Diocesano, Milan, 2005). He teaches a course on aesthetics at the Rotondi College near Varese.


is an independent curator and writer based in New York. Upcoming exhibitions include History Contested: Books on Photography in the Middle East and Persia (Fall 2012) at the International Center of Photography Library in New York.

Recent exhibitions include Arthur Ganson: Kinetic Mandala (Fall 2011) at the Ramapo College Art Gallery in New Jersey; Broom: The Full Sweep (Fall 2010) at the Stevenson Library, Bard College; his Masters thesis exhibition Open Score Variations (Spring 2010) at the Center for Curatorial Studies; Art Beyond Sight (Fall 2009) co-sponsored by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Art Education for the Blind at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center; What is a Line? Drawings from the Collection (Curatorial Team, Spring 2007) at the Yale University Art Gallery; and Chica Tenney: Advent (Fall 2005) at the University of Virginia Art Museum, Piedmont Virginia Community College Art Gallery, McGuffey Art Center Gallery, Les Yeux du Monde Gallery, Second Street Gallery and the Paramount Theater Gallery.

He holds an M.A. in Curatorial Studies from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and a B.A. in History of Art from Yale University.