Thank you to all who joined in the discussion with myself, Jay Milder, and Peter Passuntino. It was a pleasure to see so many familiar faces in the audience. One major theme from our conversation that I’d like to expand upon (and keep this dialog rolling) is the influence of material form and Aristotelian thought on modern Western Culture. Both Jay and Peter had thoughts about the current state of the arts which isn’t to dissimilar from when the Rhino Horn Group was in its heyday. In a broad sense, it was the art market of their time that has dictated their status as being largely under recognized today. While they are recognized by many of their contemporaries (and critics of the time) they fell in between to major art world shattering events: the dominating presence of Abstract Expressionism, and the rise of Post-Modernism. It is perplexing that seminal Figurative Expressionists, who had close ties and evolved their processes from Abstract Expressionism, have not seen the same market or institutional appreciation as the Abstract Expressionists. For example, the influential curator Henry Geldzahler was a friend and supporter of the Rhino Horn group (he owned works by several of the artists), however when it came to his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art he lauded Pop Art instead. The Figurative Expressionists’ relevance was further clouded and complicated when the Post-Modern era superseded the burgeoning Figurative Expressionist movement of the late fifties. These Post-Modern movements (Pop-Art, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, etc.) are still championed in auction houses, art fairs, and major galleries today.
Jay spoke about the divorce of the spirit from contemporary (post-modern) art, while Peter spoke about a contemporary art market that was devoid of the edginess and personal reflection of Expressionism. That said, Peter also mentioned an important connection he sees in street art to the humanist zeitgeist of Rhino Horn and Figurative Expressionism. It is interesting that the Rhino Horn artists are being recognized as influencing factors to street art from Sao Paulo, Brazil to NYC’s Lower East Side. Jay and I have spoken many times about street art, and he has always considered his work to be cosmic graffiti. He was experimenting with spray paint techniques and non linear composition in the 1950’s. More recently his influence led to a commission to create a mural alongside one of Sao Paulo’s most famous street artists Eduardo Kobra. Peter recalled that the first Rhino Horn exhibition at the New School featured large mural sized works because the artists wanted their humanistic message to be striking and in the face of their audience. There are parallels to much of the Rhino Horn artists’ work and contemporary street art that tends to be more humanist (Swoon, JR, Shepard Fairey for example) and concerned with expressionism than a lot of the commercial art in galleries.
Peter Passuntino asked me a question about why I am so interested in their work and what has driven me to push for their inclusion in the canon. I’m drawn to the fact that these artists made/make work that is aesthetically interesting while at the same time demands a deep spiritual and psychological reflection of the human condition. I admire the fact that despite all odds they took a stand for a humanist form of art that was completely out of fashion, when other artists considered it career suicide. However, the integrity and virility of Rhino Horn is as potent as ever before.
TO BE CONTINUED.