New Humanism at the New School

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The original seven Rhino Horn artists (Andrews, Bowman, Dean, Fauerbach, Milder, Passuntino, and Sperakis) planned their inaugural show with a budget of $300 per person. Their first task was to find a venue or rent a space in which to hang the exhibition. Andrews was teaching art at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and he secured the school’s Wollman Hall at 66 West 12th Street for the inaugural show that opened on March 9th, 1970. Passuntino created the artwork for the posters, and a friend of Milder’s named Norman Shaefer, printed the exhibition catalog. The Rhino Horn artists succeeded in preparing and sponsoring the exhibition themselves at almost no financial cost.

Rhino Horn did, however, take a certain risk by entering into the art scene with works whose bold, emotive, figural imagery gave a clear indication that they wanted to be noticed and taken seriously despite the critical disenchantment with figural art. Although their work was not aligned with the mainstream, commercial avant-garde of the day, the artists’ DIY approach and willingness to express non-majority viewpoints was very much in keeping with the spirit that prevailed in the United States at the end of the 1960s. So tumultuous, in fact, were these times that just a few days before the inaugural Rhino Horn exhibition a radical leftist organization called the Weathermen (later renamed the Weather Underground) carried out a terrorist attack at a West Village townhouse across the street from the gallery. The work of the Rhino Horn artists expressed the discontent, turmoil, and emotion of their contemporary condition. The members had formed the group with the intention of being as outrageous as possible with regard to creating and showing their art, and they hoped that the shocking and raucous imagery in their work would prompt dialogue on a range of issues about which the artists cared deeply.

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The show at the New School was indeed “raucous” in a socially conscious manner according to art critic Peter Schjeldahl, who reviewed it in the New York Times. Schjeldahl, who noted the marginalization that Figurative Expressionism had experienced over the previous 30 years, states that the exhibition was successful in “making a case that simple justice should have made long ago” for renewed explorations of the possibilities of figuration. Schjeldahl calls the Rhino Horn exhibition an optimistic beginning for a contemporary revival of Figurative Expressionism and suggests that the group consider including in future activities Christopher Lane and Bill Barrell, who had also made names for themselves in this regard. Regarding the distaste for Figurative Expressionism that was widespread in the American art scene of the time, Schjeldahl wrote that “It would be too bad if the uptown art world, attuned to parochial (though legitimate) standards of beauty and formal rigor, continues to ignore the real merit of painters whose swirling pigment and raucous images are among the most challenging pleasures of art in New York today.”

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