Seymour Fogel, American National Bank Mural, 1954, 30' x 10', Ethyl Silicate


American National Bank Mural Preservation Project


A project  to save the earliest and most important example of modernist, non-objective public art in Texas.

 


 

Seymour Fogel is an important American painter, muralist and sculptor.  He is known for his work as a Social Realist in the 1930's and early 1940's, a Modernist and Abstract Expressionist in the later 1940's through 1960, and a Transcendentalist painter from the 1960 until his death in 1984.  Throughout his career, Fogel had an experimental exuberance that was uniquely his own.  In his address at Fogel's Memorial Service in 1985, John I.H. Baur, Director Emeritus of the Whitney Museum, noted:  "I have learned the only thing one could safely expect in Sy's work was the unexpected."

During his lifetime, Fogel's work was exhibed in the nation's most prestigious museums:  The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum of American  Art, The Dallas Museum of Art, The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC.

Born in New York of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Fogel graduated in l932 from the National Academy of Design.  Fogel then assisted Diego Rivera in the now-destroyed mural at Rockefeller Center.  Under the auspices of the WPA, Fogel continued as a murlist, executing murals for the WPA Building at the 1939 World's Fair, the U.S. Customs Building in New York and the Social Security Building in Washington, D.C.  Fogel ultimately executed 22 murals, including 7 in Texas and 2 in Austin.

Fogel came to Texas in 1946 when he accepted a teaching position at the newly-formed Fine Arts Department at the University of Texas in Austin.  His move west was a catalyst for his growing interest in abstraction and non-objective art.  He quickly joined the vanguard of Texas artists who pioneered abstraction in Texas and created the Texas Modernist Movement in the 1940's. 

During his years at the University of Texas, Fogel won first prizes in every important Texas art competition:  The D. D. Feldman Competition, the State Fair of Texas Annual, the Texas Fine Arts Association Annual and the Gulf-Caribbean Art Exhibition.

Fogel's first Texas mural was for the University Baptist church in Austin.  Completed in 1949, "Genesis" includes melding orbs and concentric circles that represent the marriage of earth, the oceans and the heavens.  Because of a method of mural painting that Fogel devised, this outdoor mural remains in excellent condition.

Fogel's next mural in Texas was for the Petroleum Club in Houston.  Completed in 1951, the mural employed networks of triangles, becoming playful with morphing figures and shapes.  The mural included themes of the space program, but since the mural was intended for the lounge area of the club, it also included abstracted cocktail shakers, olives and martini glasses.  The mural was destroyed in 2002 when the Rice Hotel was converted to condominums.  There were absolutely no efforts to prevent the mural's destruction. 

Fogel also painted murals at the University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston, The First National Bank of Waco, The First Christian Church in Houston and the United States Federal Building in Fort Worth.  All of these murals are still in existence.

In l954, Fogel was awarded a commission to paint a heroic mural in the new American National Bank at 6th and Colorado streets in Austin, Texas.  The American National Bank was the first grand modernist building in Austin.  The building was the latest in design and technology, employing, for example, the first escalators in the city.  The building was also the first in Austin to incorporate the then-experimental integration of art and architecture into private buildings.  The mural initially caused a minor uproar, leading the Austin Statesman to report that Fogel's murals "startled" viewers and "introduced them to the exciting geometrics of non-objective art."

Fogel's finished mural for the American National Bank was featured in the March 1955 issue of Fortune magazine in an article entitled "The Modern Art of Business."  Fortune included Fogel's American National Bank mural among a small group of "the most distinguished examples of architectural painting."  The mural also received national critical acclaim.  The Architectural League of New York chose this Fogel masterpiece for its 1955 Gold Medal Exhibition.  In part because of this national recognition, in the same year Fogel was appointed to serve as Vice Presidentof the Murals of the Architectural League of New York. 

Several years ago the American National Bank was sold to the State of Texas, and it subsequently became known as the "Starr" Building.  Since that sale it has housed the offices and staff of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.  On January 25, 2004, however, the building was sold to the General Land office of Texas to be "moth-balled" for future private sale.  The building itself is in disrepair, and unfortunately the economics of renovation dictate that the building will certainly be destroyed when it is sold into the private sector.  The mural, however (with the exception of a fire alarm penetrating the surface in the lower center), is in pristine original condition, still as unique and startling as it was fifty years ago.  Because the mural was painted in situ, however, its removal will be impossible until the building's front elevation is partially demolished. 

TexasModernArt has initiated and is leading a public effort to save Fogel's American National Bank mural from destruction.  The first stage of the project is to raise public awareness, including through the media.  Next, we will investigate and develop a strategy to ensure that the mural will be saved when the building is ultimately destroyed.  Finally, we will raise public and private funds to facilitate the mural's removal and relocation to another state building or Art musuem.

For more information about the American National Bank Mural project or to support or join the effort, please contact:

info@TexasModernArt.com


IMPORTANT UPDATE

The Texas Commision on the Arts has launched an official website to describe and announce their efforts to save Fogel's American National Bank Mural.  The website contains historical information and numerous pictures of the mural in situ.  Please visit the site at: 

http://www.arts.state.tx.us/fogelmural/fogel.asp 

 


February 20, 2005 Austin American-Statesman Feature Article
Interior Model
Bank Interior
Original Mural Study
Original Mural Study
New Austin Federal Courthouse
New Austin Federal Courthouse
Mural Storage
Mural Storage

Please send contributions to the Seymour Fogel Mural Preservation Project to the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, P.O. Box 13497, Austin, Texas 78711, or contact Toni Turner, Development Officer, at 512-936-2241 or friends@thc.state.tx.us.  The Friends of the Texas Historical Commission is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the programs and activities of the Texas Historical Commission.