Don’t miss this incredible show, closing Sunday. Like me, you might be surprised at what you see. This Ossorio work, Perpetual Sacrafice, for example, stopped me in my tracks. When I first stood before it, I saw LA graffiti, I saw Swoon, I saw tattoo art, I saw comic books; modern, urban, loaded with icons and references. And yet, this is a work from 1949 by the erudite, wealthy, Filipino-American artist and collector Alfonso Ossorio. After you see the show on the third floor, be sure to stop on the second floor, around the corner from the Rothko Room, where you’ll find an installation of Ossorio’s Recovery Drawings, created 40 years later during a hospital stay. Having catalogued a facsimile volume of these drawings, I can say that the energy Ossorio captures in all of his works, from mixed media in the 1940s and ’50s to felt tipped marker in the 1980s, can produce a remarkable sensation in the viewer.
The artists featured in Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet were in the thick of their careers just as the reputation of East Hampton in Long Island, New York, surged toward its now well-known identity as artist haven. Alfonso Ossorio purchased the 60-acre property “The Creeks” in 1951 at the urging of his friend Jackson Pollock and lived there for most of his creative life. He housed and exhibited Jean Dubuffet’s art brut collection there.
Pollock also resided near East Hampton, in a small homestead in The Springs that is now the Pollock-Krasner House & Study Center. The Center describes the effect of moving to the area on Pollock:
“Before moving to The Springs, his imagery had been congested, his colors somber, and the general mood of his paintings anxious and conflicted. Soon after establishing his studio in the country, however, his colors brightened, his compositions opened up, and his imagery reflected a new responsiveness to nature.”
The region remains an artistic hub, beyond the visual arts. While the 1950s saw a huge creative influx on Long Island with the arrival of artists like Pollock, Ossorio, and Willem de Kooning, the roster of celebrities grew in the ’80s to include stars like Steven Spielberg and Lorne Michaels and in the ’90s to welcome Jennifer Lopez and Jay-Z.
Ossorio’s East Hampton estate, “The Creeks,” and its artistic activity will be the subject of gallery talks next Thursday, April 18, at 6 and 7 pm.
If you are drawn to discover what East Hampton looks like today and explore its potential to influence you artistically, participate in the Hamptons Friends Getaway game for a chance to win the trip for yourself and two friends.
This Thursday, poet, essayist, and translator Forrest Gander reads from his work in response to the Angels, Demons, and Savages and engages in conversation with poet Sandra Beasley as part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s O.B. Hardison Poetry Series. In anticipation, Sandra Beasley–author of three books including I Was the Jukebox and winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize–guest blogs about her experience of the exhibition.
One of the pleasures of growing up in the D.C.-area is a longstanding relationship with art. My old albums include crooked middle-schooler snapshots of Brancusi sculptures, the camera’s flash creating bounces of light. The Rothko Room at the Phillips became a favorite refuge ten years ago, when I first moved to a studio at 18th and S Streets, NW. So when I walked into Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet and saw Jackson Pollock’s Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), I grinned: There you are!
Lavender Mist holds a particular place in my heart. I was so enthusiastic when I met the work at the National Gallery that I bought the print in their gift shop. But when I went to put it up in my high school locker (who needs Tiger Beat pin-ups when you have Pollock drip-paintings?), I noticed something was missing. Specifically a strip of composition along the righthand edge, cropped for the print’s dimensions, noticeable because it includes a splotch of rust-orange paint not found anywhere else on the canvas. This is the Pollock that taught me that nothing can replicate the experience of seeing art in person.
Similarly, my first exposure to Jean Dubuffet’s work also has the earmark of revelation. As a teenager visiting Paris with my family, we trekked to the Centre Pompidou, which houses Le Jardin d’Hiver (The Winter Garden). Somewhere in another album is a snapshot of my sister, hunkered down in its contoured black-and-white recesses. This was my first experience thinking of work as an immersive experience, resonant with the recent Phillips installation by Wolfgang Laib. (Wax Room is a lot more fragrant, though the Dubuffet room pipes in music.)
If Pollock and Dubuffet are old friends, then Alfonso Ossorio was a blind date. But I am moved by the intensity of his art. My admittedly biased, writerly gut tells me that Ossorio used narrative as a catalyst. He fell in love with a primary relationship, often signified in his titles (Maimed Mother and Child), and the first-level rendering was of that relationship in a suggestive sketch. This is particularly apparent when he uses wax to create a resist of white paper, as in Tattooed Couple. Then he complicates his “stories” with rich color, recursive lines, and decorative–borderline distracting–ink flourishes.
These qualities stand in contrast to Dubuffet, whose narratives often seem a later-level rendering, e.g engraving arms and pubis on an abstract shape to make it more figurative. Or for that matter, Pollock, whose works are always difficult for me to penetrate in terms of intent versus chronological process. Even with umpteen visible paint layers, they seem singular in concept. In this context, I particularly appreciate the exhibition’s attention to Pollock’s denial of “accidents” and the 1951 screen print series, composed in part in Ossorio’s studio.
The exhibition accomplishes what I consider a high goal of curation–it lets me eavesdrop on an influential conversation between artists as friends and colleagues. They did not always agree, but they did engage. The individual works are stellar. The juxtapositions are illuminating. I suspect Forrest Gander will have his own take, and I look forward to our event on Thursday. But in the meantime, I am grateful to hunker down in sheer enjoyment. And to know that next time I encounter an Ossorio, I will grin, and think: There you are.
Sandra Beasley, poet