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1928  Al Held born in Brooklyn, New York on October 12, son of Harry and Clara Held.

1933–44  Attends New York City public schools.

1942  Family moves to the East Bronx, New York.

1944  Works odd jobs, such as a diamond cutter, after leaving Roosevelt High School.

1945–47  Serves two years in the U.S. Navy, enlisting once he turns 17, a few months after the end of World War II. Works with a submarine squadron based at Camp Peary, Virginia.

1948  Meets Nicholas Krushenick. Participates in social and political activities with the left-wing group Folksay. Moves to Monroe Street on Lower East Side. Works as carpenter’s apprentice. Attends drawing classes at the Art Students League.

1949–51  Uses GI Bill to continue studies at Art Students League with Robert Beverly Hale, Charles White, and Harry Sternberg while working nights as a dishwasher. Hopes to study with David Alfaro Siqueiros in Mexico but changes plans after school loses accreditation. Applies to the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and leaves for Paris as a social realist painter in March 1951.

1951–53  Paris. Attends drawing classes at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and studies sculpture with Ossip Zadkine. Befriends Sam Francis, George Sugarman, Salvatore Romano, Edward Clark, Shirley Kaplan, and other American artists, as well as Alicia Penalba, Jean-Paul Riopelle, and Georges Duthuit. Has first solo show at the cooperative Galerie Huit in April 1952. Exhibits abstract paintings that blend influences of Pollock and Mondrian. Visits Italy and Spain.

Al Held - Al Held Foundation

Held with Untitled (1955) in New York, c. 1957. Photo Sam Francis.

1953  Returns to New York in May 1953. Moves into loft on East Broadway, works at The Door Store. Meets Franz Kline and Mark Rothko and visits their studios. Learns to mix paints from raw pigments. Marries Giselle Wexler.

1954  A fire in the loft destroys many early paintings. Moves to Yorkville neighborhood of New York. Daughter, Mara, is born. Works as a porter at the Museum of Modern Art.

1955  Moves to Hoboken, New Jersey, lives in same building as Alfred Leslie. Moves to San Francisco in the summer. Lives and paints in North Beach. Works in construction on the freeways. Meets Yvonne Rainer and Ronald Bladen. Divorces Giselle Wexler.

1956  Returns to New York. Moves to 5 West 21st Street. Yvonne Rainer moves to New York. First shows a painting in New York at the Camino Gallery. Attends The Club and the Cedar Street Tavern. Marries Yvonne Rainer. Starts a small moving business, which he continues until 1960.

1957  Participates in group exhibition at Tanager Gallery. Meets Irving Sandler, Philip Pearlstein, and Alex Katz. Becomes a founding member of the Brata Gallery along with Krushenick, Sugarman, Bladen, Romano, Clark, and others. Participates in inaugural exhibition.

1958  First two-man show, with Donald Berry, at the uptown Poindexter Gallery, displays his Abstract Expressionist-influenced Pigment paintings.

1959  Sam Francis introduces him to acrylic paint. Borrows Francis’s studio at 940 Broadway (continues until 1962). Completes the Taxi Cab series of geometric forms on large sheets of paper. Divorces Yvonne Rainer. Meets Sylvia Stone.

1960  First solo show in New York at the Poindexter Gallery, displays Pigment paintings and India ink drawings. Spends the next few summers in Sag Harbor, Long Island.

1961  Second solo show at Poindexter Gallery, displays new hard-edge abstract paintings, including House of Cards. Participates in American Abstract Expressionists and Imagists at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.

1962  Third and final solo show at Poindexter Gallery, displays the new series of Alphabet paintings, including The Big A. Participates in Geometric Abstraction in America at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

1963  Becomes Visiting Critic at Yale University, where he teaches through 1980. Participates in Toward a New Abstraction at the Jewish Museum, New York. In a review, Frank O’Hara writes that Held is “one of the most controversial and powerful painters in New York.”

1964  Moves to 182 Fifth Avenue. Begins showing with Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zürich. Participates in Post Painterly Abstraction, curated by Clement Greenberg, at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Wins Logan Medal by the Art Institute of Chicago for Genesis.

1965  First major group show in a European museum, Signale at the Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland. Buys a former dairy farm near Woodstock, New York, as a summer home and studio. 

Al Held - Al Held Foundation

Held with Circle and Triangle (1964) at his solo show at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1966.

1966  Mounts first museum solo show, at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. Receives Guggenheim Fellowship in painting. Named adjunct Associate Professor of Art at Yale.

1967  First of many solo exhibitions at André Emmerich Gallery, with paintings in the uptown gallery and the 56-foot long Greek Garden on view in his studio. Installs diptych I and We, his last Alphabet paintings, in the Walter Gropius-designed Tower East Building, Cleveland. Makes first prints: a lithograph for Skowhegan and a silkscreen for the Vera List Foundation. Decides to change his style drastically and begins painting in only black and white.

1968  First American museum solo show opens at the San Francisco Museum of Art and travels to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. A second solo show opens at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, and travels to the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston. Participates in Documenta IV, Kassel, Germany.

1969  Marries Sylvia Stone. Moves to 435 West Broadway, one of the first artist cooperative buildings in SoHo.

1970  Completes 90-foot-long mural Rothko’s Canvas for Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York (installed in 1975). Finishes first works using tape to create precise geometric shapes. Participates in the Halifax Conference at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Named adjunct Professor of Art at Yale.

1971  Summer resident faculty, Yale Norfolk.

1972  Blossom-Kent Summer Session, School of Art at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.

1973  First publishes work with Pace Prints. Travels to Guatemala and Peru.

1974  First retrospective exhibition, curated by Marcia Tucker, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, accompanied by catalogue. Begins to exhibit drawings in gallery exhibitions. Travels to Morocco.

1975  Rents warehouse in Brooklyn to paint 180-foot-long mural commissioned by the federal General Services Administration for Philadelphia.

1976  Travels to Egypt.

1977  Installs mural Order/Disorder/Ascension/Descension at the Social Security Administration’s Mid-Atlantic Program Center, Philadelphia. First solo shows in London, at Annely Juda Fine Art, and in Paris, at Galerie Roger d’Amécourt. Participates in Documenta VI, Kassel, Germany.

Al Held - Al Held Foundation

Held in his West Broadway studio, New York, 1977. Photo André Emmerich.

1978  Al Held: Paintings and Drawings 1973–1978, at Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

1979  Returns to using color in paintings after 12 years of the Black and White paintings.

1980  Solo show of paintings from 1959–61 at Robert Miller Gallery, the first in a series of exhibitions of older bodies of work. Resigns adjunct professorship at Yale University.

1981  Residency at the American Academy in Rome from January to June. Studies Renaissance painting and Roman architecture. Participates in Whitney Biennial Exhibition.

1982  Joins the Board of Trustees, American Academy in Rome.

1983  Receives Jack I. and Lillian L. Poses Creative Arts Award, Painting Medal, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts. Installs mural Mantegna’s Edge in the Southland Financial Center, Dallas, Texas (mural is subsequently moved to the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, Florida, in 2001).

1984  Elected to American Institute of Arts and Letters. Irving Sandler publishes Al Held, the first monographic book

1985  Travels to Japan with Judy Pfaff on Crown Point Press trip to Tadashi Toda’s studio in Kyoto to make woodblock prints. Installs mural Roberta’s House in the Government Building, Akron, Ohio. Grandson Gabriel Held Jakubowicz is born.

1986  Creates first etchings at Crown Point Press in Oakland and San Francisco. Participates in Seven American Masters, curated by Nan Rosenthal, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Divorces Sylvia Stone. Marries Kathleen Monaghan.

1987  Purchases property in Camerata di Todi, Italy. Starts an independent body of work in watercolor.

1988  Visiting artist, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Maine. Returns to Japan with Crown Point to make a second woodblock print. Father Harry dies.

Al Held - Al Held Foundation

Held at his home in Camerata, Italy, c. 1993. Photo Janice Mehlman.

1990  Al Held Foundation is established.

1991  Exhibits large new paintings in former bank building on Madison Avenue. Richard Armstrong authors second monographic book, published by Rizzoli/Poligrafa.

1992  Moves to upstate New York home full time. Renovates property and buildings for year-round use as home and studio. Divorces Kathleen Monaghan.

1994  Final trip to San Francisco to work on etchings at Crown Point Press. Mother Clara dies.

1996  Installs stained glass windows Gravity’s Rainbow in new César Pelli-designed terminal of the Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C.

1997  Sells West Broadway loft.

1998  Begins work at Tyler Graphics, Mount Kisco, New York, on the Prime Moments lithographs, which are published the following year.

2002  Expanding Universe: The Recent Paintings of Al Held, organized by the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, travels to multiple venues. Displays new work in the four-person show Painting Report, Plane: The Essentials of Painting at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, New York.

2003  Installs glass mosaic Passing Through in the 53rd Street/Lexington Avenue subway station, New York. Residency at Tandem Press, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

2005  Awarded commissions for murals in the Robert A. M. Stern-designed Jacksonville Library and stained-glass windows in the Orlando Federal Court House. Dies July 26 in Camerata di Todi, Italy. Memorial hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

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