Philip Pearlstein was born in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1924. In 1941, his junior year in high school, he received his first recognition when awarded first and third prizes in Scholastic Magazine's 14th National High School Art Exhibition. Upon graduation from high school in 1942, he enrolled in the Carnegie Institute of Technology but the draft limited his attendance to one year. After discharge from the army in 1946, he returned to Carnegie Tech where he studied with Robert Lepper, Balcomb Green and Samuel Rosenberg, and received his BFA in 1949. Upon graduation, he moved to New York City where he pursued work in graphic design. In 1950, Pearlstein married Dorothy Cantor, a 1950 graduate of Carnegie, and in the same year he began graduate studies at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. In 1952, he had his first public showing in a group exhibition at the Tanager Gallery; in 1954, Clement Greenberg selected his work for a show at the Kootz Gallery, New York, titled Emerging Talent; and in 1955, he opened his first one-man exhibition at the Tanager Gallery. In the same year, he received his Master’s degree with his thesis, The Paintings of Francis Picabia 1908-1930.
In 1958, Pearlstein was awarded a Fulbright grant, which supported a year of travel and painting abroad, passed mostly in Italy. In September 1960, a one-man exhibition of his paintings and drawings was held at the Allan Frumkin Gallery in Chicago, following by another at Frumkin's New York gallery in the spring of 1961.
Pearlstein has been recognized in several museum exhibitions among which are: Philip Pearlstein: a Retrospective at Milwaukee Art Museum, which travelled to The Brooklyn Museum, NY, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia PA, and Toledo Museum, Toledo, OH, 1983-84; The Abstract Landscapes and Other Early Works on Paper, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH, 1992; Philip Pearlstein Retrospective Exhibition: Works on Paper 1959-1994, University of Pittsburgh, Frick Fine Arts Building, 1995-96; Philip Pearlstein: World War II Paintings, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA, 1998-99; An Economy of Specific Bodies and Particular Objects: Philip Pearlstein Drawings, Frye Art Museum, Seattle, WA, 2005; Philip Pearlstein, The Dispassionate Body, Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, MN, which travelled to the Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA, 2006-08; Philip Pearlstein: Objectifications, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ, 2008-9; Philip Pearlstein: Recent Works, Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, Old Lyme, CT, 2009; Philip Pearlstein’s People, Places, Things, Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, FL, 2013; Philip Pearlstein: Six Paintings, Six Decades, National Academy of Art, New York, NY, 2014; Pearlstein | Warhol | Cantor : From Pittsburgh to New York ,The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, 2015; Philip Pearlstein: Seventy-Five Years of Painting, Susquehanna Art Museum, Harrisburg, PA, 2017 among others.
Pearlstein is a frequent contributor to major art journals of analytical articles on contemporary art. He also has been a dedicated teacher throughout his career: at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1959-63; visiting artist and lecturer at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, summers of 1965 and 1967; and member of the resident faculty, Boston University summer program, Tanglewood, Massachusetts, 1969; and his primary teaching affiliation Brooklyn College which he joined in 1963 as an assistant professor, and was appointed a distinguished professor in 1977, retiring in 1988.
Among Pearlstein's honors are a National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1968; a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1969; and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1982. He served as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters from 2003 -2006. He received honorary Doctorates at: Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, 1983; Brooklyn College, in 1996; Center for Creative Studies and College of Art & Design, Detroit in 2000; New York Academy of Arts, New York 2001; Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, Old Lyme, CT, 2009.
In 1988 he was elected Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY. In 2004 he received The Benjamin West Clinedinst Memorial Medal, The Artists Fellowship, Inc., New York, and in 2005 The Adolph & Clara Obrig Prize, The National Academy, New York. In 2008, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award, National Academy, New York, and the Scholastic Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. In 2010, he was awarded Artist of the Year, American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, New York. In 2017, he was awarded the Icon Award in the Arts, Bruce Museum, Connecticut.
He resides in New York City.
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