Cliff Joseph, The Superman, 1966, oil on canvas, 48 x 24 inches
Iconic symbols represent an archetypal meaning and/or have a collective cultural definition. Often times due to a vast range of ideologies, these symbols become dualities.
For example, the swastika is known in Western culture as a symbol of hate and in many Eastern civilizations as a sign of peace. The two uses of the symbol couldn’t be further apart. Depending on its context and use, this symbol can be interpreted in different ways. The Nazi’s adopted an ancient symbol, sacred to Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, and as a result have stigmatized this symbol of non-violence through the violent extermination of Jews, homosexuals, and other minority groups. In Sanskrit svastika, means “good fortune” or “well-being.”
Today, the swastika has been upheld by factions of white supremacist groups as an emblem for their racist and anti-Semitic ideologies. Similarly, many of these groups display the confederate flag, a symbol with a deeply rooted history of slavery and racism.
Artists use signs and symbols within the context of a piece as a powerful statement. Most frequently, the use of these images are interpreted as liberal or progressive leaning, however there have been some notable exceptions.
Installation Shot of June Leaf’s “Recent Work” at Edward Thorp Gallery, New York.
June Leaf is an enigma in the contemporary art world. Her career spans more than six decades and crosses the boundary between Post-WWII Modernism and today’s contemporary scene, yet she is still greatly under recognized. Leaf was making art that embodied feminist ideas and imagery before there was a critical discourse on feminist issues in art. However, while distinct connections can be made, Leaf is not often referenced as a key influence when mentioning her renowned successors like Kiki Smith, Daisy Youngblood, and Marlene Dumas. However, it was pioneers like June Leaf and her Chicago contemporaries Nancy Spero and Mary Beth Edelson who paved the way for many of today’s great female artists.
While we’re looking at the Figurative Expressionists in Provincetown there were a few artists whose names weren’t mentioned, although they had significant impact on the cultural scene. Like the aforementioned artists Christopher Lane was unique member of a group of modernist painters who completely altered the idea and process of what a painting becomes. They addressed a painting as an extension of the human condition through an unconscious process that becomes not an ideology but an empirical representation of life itself. The paintings of Lane and his contemporaries, reveal the artist to be a harbinger of spirit and what philosopher Gilles Deleuze defined as transcendental empiricism. The work of these artists was functional and practical, rather than a mere “wall decoration.”
Homage to Antonin Artaud, 1964, Oil on Linen, 60 x 60”
Installation shot of “Pioneers from Provincetown: The Roots of Figurative Expressionism” curated by Adam Zucker at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum during the summer of 2013.
In the summer of 2013 my research on the East Coast Figurative Expressionist movement had culminated in the form of an exhibition at the Provincetown Arts Association and Museum, as well as an accompanying exhibition catalog. For me this marked the beginning to a mapping of the aesthetic and social aspects of this under represented movement. Picking the artists was no easy task, Provincetown was a hotbed for the avant-garde expressionists and creative minds, especially during the 1950s and 60s. There are artists who I’d have liked to include, and a much larger and more extensive Provincetown-centric survey would certainly include several additional artists. Notably Benny Andrews, Peter Dean, Nanno de Groot, Sherman Drexler, Mary Frank, Nicholas Sperakis, and Anne Tabachnick. Below, I have condensed as well as edited my catalog essay into a more concise overview of the rise of the avant-garde in Provincetown. To read more please consider purchasing a copy of the exhibition catalog. In future posts, the Figurative Expressionist zeitgeist will be mapped out from New York City, to Chicago, to the West Coast Bay Area. Continue reading
I’m saddened to learn about the recent passing of Selina Trieff. Selina was an amazing painter and wonderful person. She was included in the show I curated at The Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) in 2013 called Pioneers From Provincetown: The Roots of Figurative Expressionism.
– “Of the mainstream curators and critics Judith E. Stein has been among the few to deal with issues of the emergence of the figure in the 1950s. The niche between the dominance of Abstract Expressionism and its replacement by Pop Art is the movement of Figurative Expressionism.” Charles Giuliano interviews Art Historian and Curator Judith Stein about her past projects on Figurative Expressionism, as well as her upcoming book (Eye of the Sixties, A Biography of Richard Bellamy which will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux early in 2016) on Richard Bellamy (1927–1998), a seminal gallerist (founder of the Green Gallery from 1960 and 1965 at 15 West 57th Street in Manhattan) who introduced many important artists onto the scene in the 1960s. via Berkshire Fine Arts
– New York City has just launched their Municipal ID Card Program. The program is intended to help those who are undocumented immigrants, homeless, among others. One of the many perks is that those who sign up for New York City’s Municpal ID Card Program IDNYC get free memberships to 33 cultural institutions. via New York Times
Installation view at Lori Bookstein Fine Art
Last night Jay Milder and I went to the opening of Anne Tabachnick: Object As Muse at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in Chelsea. Anne Tabachnick (1927-1995) was a very good friend of Jay’s and he speaks incredibly highly about her and her paintings. She also maintained life-long friendships with Bob Thompson, Larry Rivers, Jane Freilicher, Paul Resika (also at the opening), and Robert De Niro Sr. among other influential figurative artists. Her painting has been revered amongst her peers who speak of its great depth, expression, and beauty.
Tabachnick’s paintings conflate Eastern and Western imagery in a style she self described as “lyrical expressionism.” She often painted representational objects including still life, portraiture, and homages to classical and modern art themes. She was just as inspired by the visual dialog of the great Western modernist painters Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard, as she was of Post-Byzantine Mannerist painter El Greco and Mai-Mai Sze’s modern English translation of the Qing Dynasty (seventeenth century) Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Tabachnick maintained a vital painterly discourse by often referencing the work of her antecedents. For example she painted improvisations of El Greco’s paintings including Purification of the Temple (c. 1574-75), which Tabachnick titled El Greco in the Garage (1975). In an essay titled “Learning from the Past” by curator April Kingsley, Tabachnick stated “I follow this example of El Greco which I have pinned to my wall, where he paints several nudes and unites them with nature. I am carrying this concept further in my own way. I am fusing the figure with the landscape.”
Tabachnick studied painting with Hans Hofmann, Nell Blaine and William Baziotes, and like many of her contemporaries felt that the physicality of Abstract Expressionism could be honed in a unique representational language.
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.
Originally published on Berkshire Fine Arts
Jay Milder was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1934. His ancestry connects him to the Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the patriarch of Hasidism and mystical Judaism, and the Hasidic mystic Rebbe Nachman (1772-1810) of Breslov, who founded a branch of Hasidic Judaism that emphasizes joy and intensity in living life through God.
Beginning in his later teenage years, Milder would begin to explore this mystical lineage, which fueled him with a desire to journey across the globe. Milder began his travels at the age of twenty, when he went to Paris to study the cubist style of painting at La Grande Chaumiere and the Sorbonne. He also took painting classes with Andre L’Hote (1885-1962) and studied sculpture with the Russian born sculptor, Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967). Milder later recalled that he received praise from his teachers for incorporating a very rough, expressionistic, and organic approach to the Cubist style. Zadkine introduced Milder to the work of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943).