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Abe Ajay
(American, 1919–1998 )
Polychrome Wood Relief No. 212
wood, found objects, paint, 31" x 72"
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The son of Syrian immigrants, Abe Ajay was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and moved to New York to study art in 1937, with scholarships to the Art Students League and the American Artist’s School. There he met the artists Will Barnet, Robert Gwathmey and also Ad Reinhardt, who became his life-long friend and confidant. Soon after his initial exposure to geometric abstraction, the dominant avant-garde tendency of the time, Ajay joined the Federal Art Project, and spent the next twenty years working as a graphic designer and illustrator. While the conceptual groundwork of Ajay’s art was laid many years before, it was not until the 1950s that he devoted himself to painting.

In 1963, the chance discovery of a supply of cigar molds in a Connecticut flea market inspired a series of relief constructions, of which Polychrome Wood Relief No. 212 is an outstanding example. In these densely composed wall reliefs, and the modular cast plastic sculptures and paper collages that followed them, Ajay combined the highly ordered geometry of Russian Constructivism, Dutch de Stijl, and neoPlasticism, with the improvised look of found object sculpture. In a statement published in the catalogue for a 1969 exhibition at the Tweed Museum of Art, which coincided with his appearance in Duluth as a Summer Guest Artist, Ajay wrote that he was “exploring a three-dimensional vocabulary of pure and private form. Disciplined, motionless and devoid of anecdote, anguish or lonely mystique.” In 1982. Ajay wrote that his imagery was “strictly architectonic, free of sentimental reference or autobiographical chit-chat. It toes no line, promotes no cause, purveys no gossip, and dispenses no information.”

Ajay clearly described himself as an abstract artist working purely with form, shape, color and space. While some critics have noted that Ajay’s relief sculptures at times evoke the architecture of his Middle Eastern heritage, the strength of his work was rooted in his ability to combine disparate formal elements into compositions that appear to be naturally ordered.



Museum Location

Tweed Museum of Art

University of Minnesota Duluth Campus

1201 Ordean Court

Duluth, MN 55812-2496

Info: 218-726-8222 or 218-726-6552

store: 218-726-6139



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