George Tooker: A Retrospective

George Tooker’s (1920-2011) luminous paintings are among the most mysterious and prescient figural works in postwar American art. A student of Reginald Marsh and intimate of Paul Cadmus, Tooker built upon their closely observed urban narratives to draw spiritual lessons about the modern world. His instantly recognizable imagery ranges from complex works of “social protest” to an intimate series of men and women illuminated before open windows. This exhibition provided a comprehensive examination of his place in American art and sought to reveal the full scope of his achievement.

From the beginning of his career, Tooker examined profound human experiences such as aging, death, intimacy, joy, loneliness, and spirituality. He often combined the style and narrative techniques of late-Medieval painting with those of European surrealism to illuminate modern experience and conjure provocative settings. Tooker is best-known for a haunting series of “public protest” paintings that established his reputation as a socially conscious artist in tune with the anxious climate of the Cold War in the 1950s. Yet he consistently explored intimate and sensual settings, revealing his ability to reflect both the public and private aspects of humanity. By focusing on individuals and the lives they lead in society, whether evident in their choices of intimacy or struggle against dehumanizing political systems, Tooker gave the world multiple stories about what it is to live in the second half of the twentieth-century and now in the twenty-first.

A public, two-day symposium, New Perspectives on George Tooker, accompanied the exhibition and featured eight prominent scholars.

Click HERE to read an interview of George Tooker by Robert Cozzolino.

Curator: Robert Cozzolino, Curator of Modern Art
Organizers: Jointly organized by the National Academy Museum, PAFA, and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.
Dates: January 30 - April 5, 2009
Location: Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building, Fisher Brooks Gallery


The Philadelphia presentation of George Tooker: A Retrospective is generously supported by the Richard C. von Hess Foundation.

Additional support provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Verdis Investment Management, and DC Moore Gallery, New York.