Tag Archives: Andy Warhol

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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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

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