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Pollock, De Kooning, Johns, Warhol, Kline – their Muse and Lover

The only survivor of Jackson Pollock’s deadly car crash in 1956 also happened to be his lover. In fact, she was an artist herself, but is better known today for relationships—sometimes sexual—with several well-known artists in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ruth Kligman’s unusual and little-known story is interwoven into the history of modern art. In addition to her sexual relationships with Pollock and de Willem de Kooning, she had strong friendships with Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Franz Kline.

The enchanting and gregarious Kligman met Pollock at a small gallery in New York where she worked as an assistant. She was only 26-years old when she began seeing the infamous “Jack the Dripper,” who was her senior by almost two decades.

At the time, Pollock was at the peak of his fame. He had become the poster child for a new painting style dubbed Abstract Expressionism, and his work and unusual painting technique were an inspiration to many artists. And yet, Pollock suffered from alcoholism and was growing weary with his celebrity.

Kligman, who was an abstract artist herself, was greatly inspired by Pollock. Two years later, in 1958, she would go on to study at the Art Students League.

“Broken Cosmos,” Ruth Kligman, 1950.

Living in Springs, New York near Pollock’s home in East Hampton, Pollock and Kligman played muse to one another. Their romance was not secretive. The composer Ned Rorem described their relationship as “two narcissists depicting each other.”

Kligman and Pollock were lovers for only a few months before he crashed his car into a tree, with Kligman and another friend inside. Kligman was thrown out of the vehicle, seriously injured but alive. Pollock and the other passenger died.

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Kligman was devastated after Pollock’s death. In a 1999 interview with Elle magazine, she said that she “loved him best and last.” But one year later, Kligman began a relationship with another Abstract Expressionist: Willem de Kooning.

“Ruth’s Zowie,” Willem de Kooning, 1957. Image via the Willem de Kooning Foundation.

In 1957, she visited her new lover’s studio. Browsing through his canvases, she stopped in front of a large blue and yellow work and exclaimed “Zowie!” Because of her enthusiasm for the work, Willem de Kooning named it in her honor.

Left to Right: Jane Freilicher, Ruth Kligman, Willem de Kooning.

An attraction to creativity (and a personal desire for it) is how Klingman described the natural attraction that she had for modern artists, and she befriended several other artists of the period. While at a restaurant with de Kooning during their affair, she met Jasper Johns, who was widely known to be gay, and was immediately taken with him. The two became friends and possibly, albeit briefly, lovers. He said of her that “she seemed to express a genuine erotic affection for well-known artists.”

In the 1960s, she drew the fascination of Andy Warhol: she looked like Elizabeth Taylor and was an artistic muse to some of the best-known artists of the previous decade. She claims they had a crush on each other and Warhol writes of her in his diaries. They were close through 1964 and supportive of each other in the art world. She opened a gallery in Greenwich Village and premiered one of Warhol’s short films, “Blow Job,” there in March of that year.

Still from “Blow Job,” Andy Warhol, 1964. Image via the Andy Warhol Foundation.

She was also a friend to Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline. The two had a playful relationship and Kline once called Kligman “Miss Grand Concourse,” referring to the major Bronx thoroughfare that was known for its flashiness and seduction. Despite his catty comment, the two seemed to be close friends.

The nickname, however, had an edge to it as several in the Astract Expressionist circle felt that Kligman had perhaps too hastily began a relation with de Kooning after the death of Pollock. She had other unflattering nicknames as well; Elaine de Kooning called her “Pink Mink” and Frank O’Hara dubbed her the “death car girl.”

Kline, however, also respected Kligman’s ambition as a painter. During a chance meeting at the Cedar Tavern in New York’s East Village, she once told Kline she had just painted her best work. He bought her a drink and gave these words of advice: “They think it’s easy. They don’t know it’s like jumping off a 12-story building every day.”

Kline’s studio became Kligman’s home after he died in 1962 and left her his apartment. She continued to live there until her own death in 2010.

Ruth Kligman by Robert Mapplethorpe, 1972. Image via the Getty Museum blog.

Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1930, proximity, confidence, and a genuine interest in art allowed Kligman to slip seamlessly into the New York scene. While she may have been muse to several of the biggest names of the mid-century art world, hanging around with painters and poets in the Cedar Tavern in the East Village and rubbing elbows at gallery shows, Kligman was not a groupie. She was herself a dedicated artist, a mentor, and a confidant – she soaked all the art knowledge she could from these talented men.

Controversy over the authenticity of “Red, Black and Silver,” a painting that Kligman claims is Pollock’s last work and a gift to her, has tested art forensics in recent years: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/25/arts/design/a-real-pollock-on-this-art-and-science-collide.html

The New York Times wrote a detailed obituary of Ruth Kligman in 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/06/arts/design/06kligman.html

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La joie de vivre: the top 10 list

The notion of joy in life has inspired philosophers, artists, and other thinkers since antiquity.

According to the nineteenth century French historian Jules Michelet la joie de vivre is a harmonious state, a peaceful existence within nature. In English, “the joy of living” is associated with all those things that make life worthwhile. Here are the best of those joyous depictions:

Joie de Vivre (Antipolis), Pablo Picasso, 1946.

In the year the Cubist Pablo Picasso painted this work, there was not much joy in postwar Europe. The artist himself was holed up in a tiny house on the French Riviera, but his time spent in the nearby museum-turned-studio Chateau Grimaldi spurred his creativity, resulting in a proliferation of works, including his “Joie de Vivre (Antipolis).”

Because his own reality was rather dreary, Picasso used his art to recall the mythical past, painting his lover Francoise Gilot in a dance with the fauns and satyrs, the half-horse, half-men of ancient Greek mythology.

Bonheur de Vivre, Henri Matisse, 1906.

Considered a cornerstone of early modernism, Henri Matisse’s “Bonheur de Vivre” celebrates life the Fauvist way: through brilliant color. The shifting scale of the nude subjects’ pastoral scene begs a closer look and reveals a radical experiment, in which the figures are painted as viewed by each other.

The painting was shocking to the art community for its style and to the general public for its content. Each figure is enjoying its life: nude, in nature, and wildly sensually. In 1908, Matisse said this depiction of hedonistic joy represented his dream for “an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter” – a sentiment that was mocked by Picasso for its bourgeois attitude.

Joie de Vivre, Max Ernst, 1936.

Evoking the Northern Renaissance heritage of detailed foliage imagery, deep shadows, and woodcut-like forms, Max Ernst’s 1936 painting “Joie de Vivre” is titled ironically. A tangle of supersized vegetation dwarfs a statue and a fantastical animal, forming an eerie jungle rather than the expected pleasant and harmonious depiction of nature .

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La Joie de Vivre, Paul Delvaux, 1937.

One of the most provocative Surrealists of his time, who was even ousted by his Belgian contemporaries for painting too dreamily, Paul Delvaux creates a spirit in this work that in not particularly joyful. His uncanny scene is rooted in real images, though the relationship between figures is not easily defined, but obviously complex. The painting evokes a more psychological reflection on life’s joys.

Rythme, Joie de vivre, Robert Delaunay, 1930.

He may not have a household name, but Robert Delaunay is a star of modern art. His work celebrates both form and color, highlighting his dual influences from Cubism and Fauvism. His works were such a singular achievement that they were given their own art historical style, Orphism, and admired by many, including Paul Klee, August Macke, and Franz Marc of Der Blaue Reiter. His vibrant abstract works like this “Rythme, Joie de Vivre” from 1930 show a mix of cool and warm colors in a dynamic geometric arrangement.

Au Temps d’Harmonie (La Joie de Vivre – Dimanche au Bord de la Mer), Paul Signac, 1895-96.

This idyllic image by one of the founders of Pointillism (another is Georges Seurat) is an unironic depiction of scenes of the good life by the sea. Signac describes the work in a 1893 letter to fellow Neo-Impressionist Henri-Edmound Cross:

“Great news! On your advice, I’m going to try a large canvas!… In the foreground, a group at rest… man, woman, child… under a large pine an old man tells stories to the young kids… on a hillside… the harvest: the machines smoke, work, lessen the drudgery: and around the haystacks… a farandole of harvesters… in the center, a young couple: free love!”

Joie de Vivre, Mark di Suervo, 1998.

Mark di Suervo’s New York City sculpture from 1998 proves that the original concept of the joy of living still inspires in the contemporary era. The 70-foot-tall work is made of two interlocking, red L-beams, which both reach up to the sky and down to the ground. In 2011, the sculpture was famously adopted by the Occupy Wall Street movement as a symbol of the proletariat protests in the plaza where it stands.

Joie de Vivre, Kees van Dongen, 1922.

Kees van Dongen depicts life at its fullest during the happening scenes of a social gathering. Using Fauvist color to denote sensual details – the green of a woman’s eyes and cleavage, the blush of a couple getting close – the Dutch-French painter was no stranger to the controversy his paintings caused. He along with Henri Matisse and others, exhibited at the provocative 1905 Salon d’Automne, which was a counter-exhibit to the official Paris Salon.

Joie de Vivre, Jacques Lipchitz, 1927.

A Cubist sculptor who ran in the same circle as Pablo Picasso, Jacques Lipchitz created his “Joie de Vivre” as a pivotal point in his artistic career. The bronze work from 1927 is looser, more curvaceous that the typical tight angles of Cubism and marks a changing style in its exploration of joy through more organic forms.

Oleanders, Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

Vincent van Gogh’s “Oleanders” is little more than a brightly colored floral still life at first glace. But a surprise is hidden in plain sight. On the table the artist has painted Émile Zola’s novel La joie de vivre (1883). The novel is ironically titled as its bleak story revolves around a child who has lost her parents. For van Gogh, oleander flowers with their hearty nature and plentiful blooms were the physical juxtaposition of Zola’s idea of life – a joyless entity driven by undeserved fate.

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Selling Out?: Six Surprising Artists Who Posed for Product Advertisements

The simple life of the starving artist is much more than a Romantic literary and painterly trope – for many artists, measly living is reality. With the fame they garner now it’s hard to imagine that modern figures like Andy Warhol or Salvador Dalí would have needed to supplement to their artistic incomes. But, we’ve found the advertisements that prove these side ventures.

Salvador Dalí for Old Angus scotch whisky, 1951.

Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí who once declared, “I myself am Surrealism,” made another bold statement in 1951: that Old Angus brand scotch whisky is “really tops.” Dalí lends his image and endorsement to the liquor, however it wasn’t the first time he had delved into the world of advertising. The artist had worked as an illustrator in the 1940s and ran his own print publication, Dalí News, around the same time.

This color magazine ad ran in American publications when the artist was living in Spain but writing articles about modern art theory for prominent United States titles like Vogue and Herald American. He had a long-running relationship with Vogue, designing several Surrealist covers for the fashion magazine.

Marcel Broodthaers for van Laack, 1971.

Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers gained fame for his conceptual artistic stagings critiquing the art world bureaucracy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In a particular example from 1968, the artist creates a mock American modern art museum with himself as director of the department of eagles.

Just a few years later while living in Berlin, Germany, he agrees to pose as another figure, this one farther from the artistic world. In this banal German advertisement for men’s shirts, the Belgian artist becomes the model, in a starched, patterned dress shirt.

But, the caption beneath Broodthaers’ image contains a hint of his wit. Translated, it reads: “The Director of the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, refused to wear the van Laack monocle.”

Left: Andy Warhol for Pioneer, 1975; Right: Andy Warhol for Sony Beta Tapes, 1981.

Also working the 1960s and 1970s, Andy Warhol’s artwork is heavily influenced by the commercial advertising he encountered as every day, and by his background as an illustrator. From repeating soup cans or Coca-Cola bottles, his art took the popular image and inundated its viewer.

However, a few times Warhol did in fact lend his own image to a commercial advertisement. Above are two ads for audio and visual recording products. Considering the artist’s obsession with consumerism, there is surely a subversive message behind his endorsements.

Helen Frankenthaler for Rolex, 1990.

Quite the opposite of a subversive message, however, is found in this advertisement for Rolex watches. Artist Helen Frankenthaler gives a poetic endorsement of the luxury wrist wares, surprisingly in the same year – 1990 – that she was given a solo retrospective exhibition of her Color Field paintings at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The ad ran in Art & Antiques magazine, possibly alongside a review of her show!

Ed Ruscha (left) and son, Eddie Ruscha (right), for Gap, 2002. Image via Ad Forum.

An artist known for creating advertisements becomes an advertisement himself in the above image. For Gap clothing, Pop Art graphic designer Ed Ruscha models with his son Eddie Ruscha in the baggy styles of the early millennium. It is 2002, after all.

The American retail brand has a history of working with celebrities for their advertising campaigns but Ruscha Senior seems an interesting choice. Rather than a well-known face, he has a famous name – one that he passed on to his son, too – and was known for re-creating and creating logos like this one:

Trademark #5, Ed Ruscha, 1962. Image via Tate Museum.

Fast-forward to even more recent times and another modern artist is lending her image to product. In 2011, Cindy Sherman launched a line of M.A.C. cosmetics and posed for the campaign wearing her consumer goods.

Sherman is known for her photography and styling work – for transforming herself into physical versions of female tropes. Here, she subverts the typical glamor of a makeup advertisement, even including an image of herself as a clown in her new line: a true take on the sexist phrase “clown makeup,” when an outside viewer believes a woman has painted too much product on her face.

Images via thefineartblog. Photographs by Cindy Sherman.

The visual link between art and advertising has inspired interesting explorations across media. There modern artists’ deviations into the creation of advertisements or the endorsements of consumer products may have been fiscally motivated; however, those who partook were often of the avant-garde variety. Perhaps, these ads could be seen as another kind of cultural commentary?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

The Los Angeles Times questioned Helen Frankenthaler’s career because of her Rolex advertisement. Their critiques and praises, here: articles.latimes.com/1990-02-08/entertainment/ca-641_1_frankenthaler-retrospective

Want to know more about these artists? Read these pages on The Art Story: Salvador DalíAndy WarholHelen FrankenthalerCindy Sherman

Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele’s Twisted Fates in Paint

Cardinal and Nun (Caress), 1912, Egon Schiele.

Kneeling forms against an indeterminate background, two figures interlocked as one… perhaps this painting looks familiar? The work is a tongue-in-cheek play by Egon Schiele and a slightly sacrilegious homage to his master, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Rather than love and passion, these religious figures are caught in the act, stiff against religious vow.

The Kiss (Lovers), 1907-1908, Gustav Klimt.

The Mentor and His Star Pupil

With a nearly 30 year age difference, Schiele and Klimt had a mentor-student relationship that lasted throughout their artistic careers. From copycat styling to love triangle rumors, this twisted story is told in their paintings.

In 1907 a then-teenaged Schiele saw Klimt as an idol and sought him out. The two fostered an artistic friendship and elements of Klimt’s avant-garde style can be found in many of Schiele’s early works and drawings, including these:

Left: Portrait of Gerti Schiele. Right: Standing Girl in a Plaid Garment. Both by Egon Schiele, 1909.

The Love Triangle with Wally Neuzil

Klimt’s influence was never far away. He introduced Schiele to many gallerists, fellow artists, and models, including the perhaps infamous Valerie (Wally) Neuzil. Neuzil had previously modeled for Klimt, and is rumored to have been his mistress. In 1911 she moved with Schiele to Krumau in the Czech Republic and thus began a four-year affair with him. In 1916 she returned to her old lover, posing again for Klimt.

The Hermits, Egon Schiele, 1912.

Left: Portrait of Wally, Gustav Klimt, 1916. Right: Woman in black stockings (Valerie Neuzil), Egon Schiele, 1913.

In fact, Schiele slyly alludes to this shared love in his 1912 painting The Hermits. The artist depicts two male figures in a Klimt-esque embrace, who on second take appear to be the mentor (on the left) and student (on the right) themselves. Dressed in all black, these two “hermits” are one mass but two thin white lines in the background connect the couple to a wilting rose, red like the color of Neuzil’s fiery hair.

Muse Shared, Again?

Klimt and Schiele portraits also reveal another shared subject: Viennese society woman Friederike Maria Beer-Monti. She rang Klimt’s doorbell in 1915 and asked if she could pose for his artworks. The process took six months and, in that time, she is rumored to have been one of his many flames. Just one year earlier, she had been the subject of a work by Klimt’s mentee.

Left: Portrait of Friederike Maria Beer-Monti, Egon Schiele, 1914; Right: Portrait of Friederike Maria Beer-Monti, Gustav Klimt, 1916

Both artists were notorious for their affairs with women. Klimt, who never married, is said to have fathered 17 children with his muses. Schiele often found himself in hot water with the authorities for his choice of studio visitors, children and adult, who posed nude.

Breaking Conventions in Art, Too

As personal relationships grew more interconnected so did their artistic styles. The bright colors and elongated bodies in Klimt’s unfinished The Bride and the more jagged lines and gestural coloring in Schiele’s Portrait of Dr. Erwin von Graff would lead their contemporaries to a new – and more personal – way of thinking about color and form in art.

Left: The Bride, Klimt, 1917; Right: Portrait of Dr. Erwin von Graff, Schiele, 1910.

With a relationship based on mutual respect, Klimt and Schiele continued to support and guide each other through the art world. There was an obvious amount of humor between the two; only a prized pupil could have gotten away with such sheer parodies of his mentor.

And, by the way, here’s a more banal portrait of Wally that her artists’ paintings didn’t show:

Schiele and Neuzil in Krumau, Czech Republic, 1913. Image via Leopold Museum.

Gustav Klimt is currently abuzz in the pop culture world. Actress Dame Helen Mirren is starring in The Woman in Gold, a movie about Klimt’s painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Watch the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geJeX6iIlO0

Learn more about Klimt’s life and career here: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-klimt-gustav.htm

For more on Egon Schiele’s romantic muses: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/8507783/A-legend-laid-bare-Egon-Schiele-exhibition.html

Learn more about Schiele’s life and career here: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-schiele-egon.htm

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The Architect Behind the New Whitney Museum – Renzo Piano and his beautiful visions

In the words of Jerry Saltz à la Nina Simone, “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life” for the Whitney Museum of American Art. The museum reopens its doors in its new, hip, Meatpacking location May 1, 2015.

Old vs New Whitney Museum of American Art, Marcel Breuer 1966 vs Renzo Piano 2015.

The man behind the redesign is Renzo Piano, an architect hailing from Genoa, Italy. He has been the creative force behind numerous projects around the world, won too many awards to count, and established a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting architectural professions.

Renzo Piano, the man behind the building.

For a quick overview of Piano’s oeuvre, here is a compilation of previous works designed by his firm, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

Centre Georges Pompidou 

Paris, France

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, 1971-1977.

Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Genoa, Italy

Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Genoa, Italy, 1989-1991.

Reconstruction of the Atelier Brancusi 

Paris, France

Reconstructed Atelier Brancusi, Paris, France, 1992-1996.

Zentrum Paul Klee

Bern, Switzerland

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland, 1999-2005.

Renovation and Expansion of the Morgan Library

New York, U.S.A.

Renovation and Expansion of the Morgan Library, New York, U.S.A, 2000-2006

The New York Times Building

New York, U.S.A

The New York Times Building, New York, U.S.A, 2000-2007.

Renovation and Expansion of the Isabelle Stewart Gardener Museum

Boston, U.S.A.

Renovation and expansion of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, U.S.A, 2005-2012.

And of course,

 

The Whitney Museum at Gansevoort

New York, U.S.A.

The Whitney Museum at Gansevoort, New York, U.S.A, 2007-2015.

 

If you can’t make your way to New York, here’s a sneak peak into the museum’s inaugural exhibition, America is Hard to See.

 What’s your take on the move downtown, the new architecture, and the future of the Whitney in general? Let us know in the comments!

 

*All images sourced from http://www.rpbw.com/, where you can see a ton of other awesome projects by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop.

 

From Monet to Rauschenberg: Pollution In Art Through The Decades

Claude Monet, The Thames below Westminster, 1871.

The Industrial Revolution marked a new chapter of history: New technologies were emerging, populations were burgeoning, and the looks of cities were changing. Although economies were blossoming and cities were bustling, the surge of industrialization gave rise to a modern phenomenon: pollution. From fascination to repulsion, let’s take a look at the artistic take on this topic.

Claude Monet:

As London began modernizing in the nineteenth century, the city grew at a rapid speed and pollution began creeping up in all facets of life. Claude Monet, a leading figure of the Impressionist movement, first visited London in 1870 and painted various scenes of parks and the River Thames. Fascinated by the effects of fog his focus lied in depicting the atmospheric haze. Monet wrote, “I love London. It is a mass, an ensemble, and it is so simple…in London, what I love, above all, is the fog.”

Umberto Boccioni:

Futurism celebrated all things technology and modernity: the metropolis was the Futurists’ haven. Their environment was one of war and technological advancements, which led artists to take a very violent, aggressive and forceful approach towards their work. To Boccioni, the steam from the trains and the exhaust from the automobiles were not threats to health nor to the environment, but symbols of movement and progress.

Umberto Boccioni, Sates of Mind I: The Farewells, 1911.

Charles Sheeler:

Sheeler, associated with Precisionism, drew upon Futurism and Cubism to capture the grandeur of American industrial life. The idyllic representation of the Ford Motor Company Plant near Detroit, is a celebration of industrialization’s creation of a new, lucrative American landscape. The lack of human presence in this image highlights technology’s supremacy in the modern environment.

Charles Sheeler, American Landscape, 1930.

Robert Smithson:

Spiral Jetty — a 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide coil made from black basalt and earth — was created by Smithson in a red-colored, polluted section of the Great Salt Lake that had been cut off from fresh water supplies 1959. This site-specific work is part of Earthworks, a movement linking art to the landscape it is produced in. The dependence of the work on the surrounding environment parallels human dependence on nature and highlights the importance of living with the earth instead of forcing yourself upon it.

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970. As seen from above.

Robert Rauschenberg:

With 172 governments and 2,400 representatives of NGO’s in attendance, the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro was an unprecedented event in the history of UN conferences. The challenge at hand? How to stop the damage of our planet due to pollution and the overconsumption of finite natural resources. Robert Rauschenberg was not only an artist but an environmentalist who believed that each living individual has a responsibility to protect mother nature. He created this work to raise awareness about the UN summit and to illustrate the struggle to simultaneously accept what we have done to this planet and to hope for a better future.

Robert Rauschenberg, Last Turn—Your Turn [print for Earth Summit ’92 the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil] 1991.

 What are your favorite art works on this topic? Let us know in your comments!

How a NYC Department Store Launched the Art Careers of Warhol and Friends

Around the winter holidays, families, fashionistas, and ordinary Joes alike flock to the impressively-decorated department store windows on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Lush fabrics and mechanized displays delight viewers, and lure them inside to shop.

From 1929 to 1980, Bonwit Teller was one of those dazzling wintertime stops, a high style ladies’ retailer on Fifth Avenue.

But, Bonwit Teller’s window displays were much more than glitter and women’s wear. In 1929, the store hired their first artist as window display designer: the eccentric Salvador Dalí. And a fascinating history of creative collaborations was born.

Salvador Dali in Bonwit Teller window display, 1939. Image via Europa Star.

1939: Salvador Dalí

Surrealist Salvador Dali, who once declared “I myself am surrealism” designed two themed windows for the store in 1939 – one representing Day and the other Night.

In the Day window, Narcissus is personified. Three wax hands holding mirrors reached out of a bathtub lined with black lambskin and filled with water. A mannequin entered the tub in a scant outfit of green feathers. For the Night window, the feet of a poster bed are replaced by buffalo legs and the canopy is topped by its pigeon-eating head. A wax mannequin sat nearby on a bed of coals.

Neither was the most appealing to 5th Avenue shoppers and soon the store censored Dalí’s “crazed” display, replacing it with regular store mannequins in suits. In a rage, the artist jumped into the window display and attempted to pull his bathtub from the floor. It slipped. Both artist and tub crashed through the front window!

Jasper Johns’ Flag on Orange Field behind a Bonwit Teller mannequin, 1957.

1955: Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg

Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were already artists when they began working as freelance window dressers at Bonwit Teller in 1955; however, they were still fairly unknown in the mainstream art world. Using the pseudonym “Matson Jones,” the collaborative pair exhibited their modern artworks behind fashionable mannequins regularly through the 1950s.

Jasper Johns Blue Ceiling, Matson Jones, 1955. Image via Poster Museum.

In this year, Johns and Rauschenberg collaborated on a few rare works, including a cyanotype photography print Jasper Johns Blue Ceiling in 1955. Images of these cyanotypes, which Rauschenberg began creating with his wife four years earlier, had been reprinted in the April 1951 issue of Life magazine. At Bonwit Teller, the collaborative Matson Jones photography creations were given new life in display as commercial backdrop.

But, many of the artworks shown at Bonwit Teller would follow an opposite pattern: later becoming the artists’ most famous in galleries. Johns’ first flag painting White Flag on Orange Field was hung in the shop’s window in 1957. And Rauschenberg displayed an altered Untitled (Red Combine Painting) there in 1957.

James Rosenquist with his Brunette Billboard, Vertical, 1964. Image by Dennis Hopper, via The Genealogy of Style.

1959: James Rosenquist

Before he “joined” Pop art, James Rosenquist was a commercial artist. He was employed as a billboard painter for a number of years and in 1959, he also began designing display windows for Bonwit Teller. Robert Rauschenberg helped get him the gig.

Rosenquist describes the experience in his 2009 memoir, Painting Below Zero: “By the late 1950s I’d begun to lead a double life. In the daytime I painted billboards and designed display windows for Bonwit Teller, Tiffany, and Bloomingdale’s; at night and on weekends I hung out with artists and painted.”

Andy Warhol’s Bonwit Teller display, 1961. Image via Art21.

1961: Andy Warhol

Warhol, like Rosenquist, had been a commercial artists for many years – an illustrator specifically. In 1951, Bonwit Teller display director Gene Moore hired Warhol to provide artwork for the shop’s windows, as an extension of his work as a commercial artist. As an avant-garde Pop artist, Warhol’s work was not being taken seriously in New York at the time; the New York School painting style still ruled the mainstream art world.

But 1961 brought his big break. The artist hung five paintings behind department store models and announced the significance of his own artwork – lowbrow subjects with a cheeky take on consumerism. The paintings were based on comic book strips and newspaper advertisements, and the stylishly dressed mannequins in front played directly with the idea of art as advertising.

Left: Bonwit Teller, New York City. Right: Entrance and display windows. Images via The Department Store Museum.

For more than 50 years, Bonwit Teller had an eye for the New York avant-garde art scene; but, it seems that all good things must come to an end. In 1979 the shop was shuttered and acquired by magnate investor Donald Trump. By 1983 a tall, shiny skyscraper had replaced it ­­– the infamous mixed-use Trump Tower, home to both rapper Jay-Z and the Gucci flagship store.

Trump Tower rises from the Fifth Avenue site today but its art history significance is nothing compared to that of the late Bonwit Teller department store. Under Moore’s direction in the midcentury, Bonwit Teller gave many modern artists their starts in the world of art and design. With free creative reign, avant-garde artists experimented in the department store window, turning a glass case into an alternative art space, and introducing the public to new and exciting styles.

Today, we see these kinds of collaborations between artist and fashion houses frequently. Perhaps they, too, have Bonwit Teller to thank!

The New York Times ran an obituary-like commemoration of the ladies’ department store in 2014. For more facts and figures on Bonwit Teller, read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/realestate/fifth-avenue-bonwit-teller-opulence-lost.html

Seven Female Artists Whose Work Shaped History

The fight for women’s rights is not limited to civic realms. During the second wave of feminism in the 1960s, the female art world didn’t demand representation, it created its own. The feminist art movement was born.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the art world is praising the tremendous achievers!

“The Destruction of the Father,” 1974.

Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010

In the 1970s, an invitation to a “bloody Sunday” critique session at Louise Bourgeois’ house was a privilege. But, young artists had to come ready to defend. At a time when feminist art was finally making waves, Bourgeois continuously challenged the quality of her burgeoning contemporaries at these Sunday salons. She was a ruthless teacher with trailblazer credentials – one of the first artists using genitalia images to comment on gender stereotypes.

Today, Bourgeois is known for tactile sculpture inspired by traumatic childhood events, particularly her father’s infidelity. She often uses opposite sensations (hard, rough materials) to dispute the stereotypical softness of femininity.





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"Accession II," 1968.

“Accession II,” 1968.

Eva Hesse, 1936-1970

In a slew of stiff 1960s Minimalism, Eva Hesse turned geometric sculpture on its head and gave the movement a more human touch.

With contours, translucent materials and texture, her Minimal forms became organic and free-standing. They sculpted space like Robert Morris, but unlike his rigid “what you see is what you see” works, Hesse’s art emits a psychological, even sexual presence.

Subversive and highly influential in a proto-feminist art movement, Hesse inserted artistic conversations on the female body and sexual innuendo into a world of emotionless abstract forms.

"The Dinner Party," 1970.

“The Dinner Party,” 1970.

Judy Chicago, 1939-

An entire book could be written on the artistic importance of Judy Chicago’s 1970 “The Dinner Party.” The ballroom-sized artwork sets a place at the important and monumental table for 39 historical feminists from the Western world, recognizing them for tremendous achievements. Another 999 women are honored with their names inscribed in the white floor in the center of the tables.

In her nearly 50 year repertoire of artwork, Chicago is devoted to art, like “The Dinner Party,” that celebrates women, often using vaginal imagery. She’s an active political powerhouse with a name almost synonymous to feminist art and has founded women-only art studios in California and New Mexico.

“Phalli’s Field,” 1965, New York.

Yayoi Kusama, 1929-

The mother of all things polka dots, Yayoi Kusama began playing with the idea of accumulations, a late 1950s avant-garde concept involving the consolidation of multiples of objects.

Male artist Arman made accumulations famous and Kusama subverted their meaning with a feminist twist. Arman would argue that one high-heeled shoe has a societal association, but 30 high-heeled shoes crammed in a tiny plexiglass case lose their form and influence. So, if one phallus represents power, argues Kusama’s work, then a room of stuffed phallic objects, reflected infinitely in mirrored walls renders that power irrelevant.

Kusama’s work champions sexual liberation, and in her early career, she used her body to as a canvas, a precursor to the feminist performance art movement in the next two decades.

“Eye Body,” 1963.

Carolee Schneemann, 1939-

Reading the negative review of a male critic from a scroll pulled from her vagina, Carolee Schneemann grounded the image of feminist performance art in the minds of all art historians.

Beginning in the 1960s, Schneemann’s art explored the history of women in art and as artists with her nude body as material. At the time, artists like Chris Burden were performing feats of strength and extremity. Schneemann instead opened the arena to female artists, as a space for critical reflection where a female nude means much more than beauty and sexual objectification.

“Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground),” 1989.

Barbara Kruger, 1945-

In the postmodern aesthetic of media and advertising, Barbara Kruger addressed a story that the wasn’t being told in mainstream press: the continued feminist struggle, a daily “battleground” on the female body. Black and white images overlaid with text became her recognized style. In themes like consumerism, feminism, and human condition Kruger gave societal comment that subverted the glitzy images of the 1980s.

She also became the first female artist to be represented by Mary Boone Gallery in New York, breaking the gallery’s usual hankering for macho Abstract Expressionist painters and inserting feminist art into a blue-chip world.

“My Bed,” 1999.

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Tracey Emin, 1963-

In the vein of Carolee Schneemann, Tracey Emin uses personal narrative and objects to speak to the idea of femininity and gender. But, in Emin’s pieces, the “performances” have already happened. While the artist is not directly associated with second wave feminism, her work is often on the same themes translated for a contemporary audience.

With objects from her home and life, Emin blurs autobiography and art. She denounces any ideas of social restrictions and reflects a life that champions gender equality, particularly in gender-specific stereotypes associated with sex.

In 2009, Emin summed up her continued feminist mission: “I have a strong voice and I’m quite feisty but there are a lot of women who aren’t and they need to have laws [protecting them] and rights too.”

Learn more about Feminist Art here: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-feminist-art.htm

Leonora Carrington’s Surrealist Scenes Find Muse in Hieronymus Bosch’s Christian Fantasies

Where does the real end and the surreal begin? You could spend hours staring at Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, pondering this question. And one modern artist did just that, before her mind went on a strange journey.

The famous fourteenth century painting is full of tiny figures – human, plant, animal, and monster – in a three-panel landscape thought to represent the Bible’s Heaven, the Garden of Eden, and Hell. On close observation, these figures are engaged in lots of strange activities, some definitely sexual, others, just weird.

Hung in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain, the Dutch artist’s striking scene intrigued a young Surrealist, 450 years after its creation. Leonora Carrington encountered Bosch’s works here while escaping the 1939 Nazi invasion of France, and her own art found a muse.

Left: The Temptation of St. Anthony, Leonora Carrington, 1947; Right: The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch, c 1500-1525





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Carrington’s midcentury Temptation is one of her only works on a Christian theme and very obviously influence by Bosch’s painting of the same Biblical story.

Commenting on it, the artist said: “Naturally, one could ask why the venerable holy man has three heads, to which one could always reply, why not?”

This playful yet cryptic response was typical of Carrington’s character. Inspired by Bosch, her surreal paintings are just as mysterious.

Left: The Giantess, Leonora Carrington, 1947; Right: The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1500

Choice of symbolic imagery is key in these two paintings.

Like Bosch, Carrington depicts hunters in an uncertain landscape and winged fish and seafarers floating in an ocean-like sky. Her central giantess holds an egg while birds fly from her cloak.

Figures, animal, man, and object, interacting in a strange way… sound familiar?

Left: Adieu Ammenotep, Leonora Carrington, 1960; Right: The Stone Operation, Hieronymous Bosch, c. 1494

Both artists explore the boundaries of magic and medicine.

A man extracts a “stone of madness” from the head of a patient in Bosch’s The Stone Operation. His funnel-like hat suggests he’s less doctor and more charlatan, and the “stone” is a flower. One previously removed sits on the café-style table.

Carrington’s figures also perform a magical operation over the mummified body of Amenhotep, an Egyptian pharaoh. In a kind of medical operating theater, figures pull red strings through the body, whose insides are a flower.

For this Surrealist, Bosch as muse is clear. But, Carrington’s mind was filled with strange and uncanny thoughts long before she could release them in paint.

She crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and visited the Prado Museum in 1939. However, it was not long before the artist suffered a psychotic break and was mandated to an asylum. She describes the traumatic experience in her memoir, “Down Below,” (1944, revised in 1988). For Carrington, the line between real and surreal is never drawn.

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Learn more about Carrington’s life and career here: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-carrington-leonora.htm

In the documentary film “La Novia del Viento” by Andrea Di Castro, Delmari Romero Keith and Rafael Segovia, the artist gives her final interview in 2010, one year before her death. Watch an excerpt here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBa5Uy9Yl0I

The Top Four Songs About Modern Art

Clockwise: Paul McCartney; Arabia Mountain Album Cover-Black Lips; Jay Z; Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time-Salvador Dali, 1939; Vincent van Gogh; Salvador Dali; Black Lips; Pablo Picasso; Starry Night-Vincent Van Gogh, 1889; Don McLean.

Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Salvador Dali are some of the greatest artists of the past century who have inspired some the greatest musicians of our time. Here are four songs that combine the best of both music and art worlds:

Shawn Carter Strikes Again:
Jay Z-Picasso Baby

The track starts out with Jay saying that all he wants is a Picasso in his castle. He then goes on to name drop like no other: he wants a Mark Rothko, a billion Jeff Koon balloons, to be surrounded by Andy Warhols, and to live at the MOMA. Hey, it’s Jay Z, he can have whatever he wants.

The most awesome part of this creation is his performance piece that got turned into a ten-minute art film. Jay Z raps the song to people in a New York gallery and even sneaks in a dance with Marina Abramovic.

Unhappy Marriages & Asylums:
Don McLean-Vincent (van Gogh)

McLean wrote this song during a rocky period in his life, while pushing through an unhappy marriage. The melancholy of Starry Night (painted by Vincent van Gogh after checking himself into an asylum) struck a chord with the singer, who proceeded to write the lyrics for the song on the only thing he had handy at the time, a paper bag, while looking at a print of the painting.

To step into mind-blowing territory for a second, van Gogh was an inspiration not only to McLean but to the rapper Tupac Shakur. Shakur has been quoted saying that he was moved by McLean’s “Vincent” and that he aspired to make songs just as touching.

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Raising A Drink To Picasso:
Paul McCartney & Wings-Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)

The idea for this song came when Dustin Hoffman challenged Paul McCartney to write a song about the article “Pablo Picasso’s Last Days and Final Journey” in the April 23, 1973 issue of Time Magazine. 

The title and lyrics of the song come from the reported last words of Pablo Picasso, “drink to me, drink to my health, you know I can’t drink anymore,” that were uttered to his guests before he went to bed and died in his sleep.

The album version of this song (unfortunately not the live version we have here), jumps around in terms of tempo and mood, but this fragmentation was an attempt by McCartney to evoke Picasso’s cubist paintings.

Tripping Out In A Salvador Dali Museum:
Black Lips-Modern Art

This song was conceived after Black Lips guitarist, Cole Alexander, went to a Salvador Dali Museum while tripping on ketamine. He said being high “canceled out the surrealism and [he] felt really normal” around Dali’s eccentric works.

The music video is far from normal but you should watch it anyway. It involves roosters floating through hazy red air and skulls wrapped in American flags, all electrified by punk music. It’s very psychedelic and makes you feel odd, but isn’t that how a surrealist painting should make you feel?

There are many other songs out there about art, what are some of your favorites? What artist-singer collaboration would you love to see? Let us know in the comments!

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