What is it?


Fred Berman (Milwaukee 1926–2011 Milwaukee)


White City #11


1954 – 56


Oil on Masonite


35 1/2 x 29 1/2 in.

Credit line

Gifted 2008, The Betty Hankin Estate

About the Work


Born and raised in Milwaukee, Fred Berman received a BS in Art Education from Milwaukee State Teachers College and a Master of Arts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He began his teaching career at the Layton School of Art and then, in 1960, joined the art faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he remained until his retirement in 1993.

In 1955, Berman read that Katharine Kuh, the Art Institute of Chicago’s first curator of modern art, was organizing the exhibition American Artists Paint the City for the 1956 Venice Biennale, then, and still, the world’s most renowned art event. He loaded up his father’s car with his work and drove to Chicago. Upon examining what he had brought, Kuh declared, “Double congratulations, for being so young and painting so well.” Kuh subsequently selected for the Biennale one of Berman’s White City series—of which MOWA’s White City #11 is an example. Berman’s painting hung alongside other urban-themed canvases by De Kooning, Pollock, Rothko, and Tobey, to cite only several of the thirty-five artists representing the United States that year. Berman was the youngest among them.

In the show’s catalogue, Kuh wrote that Berman captured “the eerie radiance of American cities.” Indeed, in White City #11, steeples, tall buildings, doors, windows, and arches coalesce into a shimmering, floating vision of white, ivory, and gold—an arresting apparition seen through a veil of stippled, feathery brushstrokes. It evokes the light-filled, tonal images of the nineteenth-century British painter J. M. W. Turner, whom Berman particularly revered. As atmospheric as it is architectural, White City #11 exemplifies the balance Berman achieved in all his work between abstraction and representation.