Jack Youngerman, like many of his peers, turned toward hard-edged abstraction in response to the dominance of Abstract Expressionism. His cool, flat organic and geometric compositions, often on shaped canvases, were the antithesis of the emotive and gestural paintings of the earlier movement. In mid-career, about 1977, Youngerman began to translate his aesthetic into freestanding pieces in cast fiberglass and resin sculpture.
Youngerman was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and at the age of three moved to Louisville, Kentucky. His studies at the University of Missouri, from 1943 to 1944, were interrupted by his attendance in the United States Navy Officers Training Program at the University of North Carolina, where he also took his first art class. During 1946, he was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia, and Boston with the Atlantic fleet; after his discharge from the Navy, he returned to the University of Missouri for his bachelor’s degree in journalism. Following graduation, Youngerman moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux Arts under the auspices of the G.I. Bill. While living abroad for eight years, he visited France’s historic monuments, the studio of Constantin Brancusi and other artists, and traveled extensively through Europe and the Middle East.
In late 1956, Youngerman moved to SoHo in downtown New York, not far from where Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg were living and working. In 1958, the Betty Parsons Gallery hosted the first of seven solo exhibitions; the following year, Dorothy Miller selected several of his paintings for the groundbreaking exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art. Over the next decade, the Worcester Art Museum, the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., and Galerie Lawrence in Paris mounted one-person exhibitions, while the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Corcoran Gallery included his work in group shows. A retrospective covering forty years was on display at the Guggenheim in 1985. His work is represented in many of the country’s most prestigious museum collections, including the Guggenheim, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Youngerman was given a National Endowment for the Arts award first in 1972 and again in 1984. During the 1980s, he experimented with sculptural forms—both reliefs and three-dimensional pieces. He served as a visiting artist or artist-in-residence at Yale University, Dartmouth College, Hunter College, and the American Academy in Rome.