Click image below for more "still life"

Click image below for more "still life"
Francis Cunningham "Three Baldwin Apples" (1964) Oil on linen 5'' x 16''

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's 1975. "Patrick" and the New York scene.

Today we have a story from 1975, of course from the New York art scene involving Dick's exhibition.  In order to set it against the historical background we go to Wikipedia where we find this handy chart about art movements from the 1950s to 2000s.

We look in the column devoted to the 1970s and find a handy list of hot movements of the time, but not what else artists are doing. Our blog entry halts and we have to find a better source of information on the period. We're interested in the stable of the Castelli Gallery as it is a good measure of what is going on in New York major galleries in that decade than the rather new movements listed on Wikipeidia, and we find the exhibition history on the gallery website.  Here is how 1975 looks at Leo Castelli.
 In short, Castelli is showing abstraction and pop art.  That leads us to assume, perhaps too soon, but our time is limited today, that there is little coverage of the kind of representational painting Dick does.  We make a short stop at Allan Frumkin Gallery, today know as George Adams which is known for representing figurative artists such as Jack Beal and Philip Pearlstein.  Here is a statement from their website.

"REALIST AND FIGURATIVE ART  The gallery has long been known for representing Realist and Figurative artists such as Jack Beal and James Valerio as well as handling works by Alfred Leslie and Philip Pearlstein."

We don't find anything on what the gallery is showing in the 1970s and we move on to the generals.

Another element to the backdrop of what Dick is doing at the time is the photorealist movement beginning late 1960s and early 1970s, a reaction to Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. While the Abstract Expressionists, Minimalists and Photorealists are fighting it out, from what Dick tells us, Philip Pearlstein and Lennart Anderson are painting nudes and showing in New York galleries.

In 1975 Dick has a show in New York which features life-sized figures, including nudes such as "Patrick."

"Patrick" is in the European tradition of the idealized nude- three-dimensional and standing in space- except that he's a particular human being.

Here is the story;

"This painting of "Patrick" was taken down from the walls of a prestigious New York gallery without my knowledge and put in a back room. It was 1975 and the occasion was my third one-man show which, in addition to still-life and landscape, included four life-sized clothed figures and four life-siize nudes.

That Saturday opening I bounded up the stairs to the main second floor gallery to be congratulated, coming down, by the man who had introduced me to the gallery. He never spoke to me again.  On the following Tuesday my sister-in-law saw the show and called, saying that she had seen a man waving a catalogue and wondering where the painting of "Patrick" was? A gallery attendant then ushered him in to a back room, and she followed. 

At the age 44 and in full stride I was still an innocent about the art world. I called Walter Terry, dean of American dance critics and a friend of my wife's and     also myself, and I said, "Walter, what do I do"?  The reply came without hesitation- "go to the gallery and them them either it goes up or the whole show goes down."

I did that.  Well, I brought out the sweat on the gallery owner's upper lip. Not a good sign.  He said the head of a company was coming in to buy a large, million dollar unfinished sketch by Claude Monet of his house-boat, and that the man's wife had died of cancer and that he'd be upset.  The conversation continued on until I said, "Look. When he comes in, detain him on the first floor, take the painting down, and put it up when he leaves."  "Hooray," the dealer said, "Cunningham has got the answer."  A few weeks later the letter came, saying I'd never have a one-man show there again.

When the head of the Brooklyn Museum Art School, where I would teach for 18 years, Augustus Peck, heard about this he said, "You'll get a gallery in New York, but you'll never get a good one." Gus Peck was wrong on one count; I have had no gallery in New York, good or bad.

Why were the powers-that-be-disturbed by a particular, male, human being, nude?  Why are some people still disturbed? Is it the male nude?  Is it the particularity?

Today is not 1975.  We have had far more exposure to the body through television, movies and the performing arts.  We have now reality TV and "The Biggest Looser," where we see 350 or 400 pound bodies, but I suspect we're as much voyeurs now as we were then- afraid of our own bodies, looking at them with something between shame and distrust.  

Let's look at "Patrick" as being ahead of its time in taking up the nude in the classical art form but with the subject, a particular human being.

-Francis Cunningham"

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