THE ARCHITECTURAL MODEL envisions what might have been. A large-scale painting by Bob Thompson (1937-1966) dominates an expansive wall on the exterior of the art fair booth. Painted three years before the artist’s death at age 28, “The Golden Ass” (1963) is a complex entanglement of silhouetted human and animal figures rendered in a captivating spectrum of saturated colors.

The composition of the painting exemplifies the artist’s oeuvre. Blending figuration and abstraction, Thompson is recognized for his expressive use of form and color. His paintings are often autobiographical; reflect his passion for jazz, its innovation and improvisation; and also reference biblical narratives and mythology.

“The Golden Ass” is a stunning introduction to Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s proposed Frieze New York presentation. Showcasing six works by Thompson, alongside offerings from Benny Andrews (1930-2006) and Robert Colescott (1925-2009), the art fair exhibition is dedicated to important 20th century painters whose disparate practices are unified by a sustained focus on the figure.

THE ART WORLD, the part that involves viewing high-end art, has been transformed into a virtual experience. In the United States, Canada, Europe, parts of Asia, Africa, and elsewhere, galleries are temporarily closed and a succession of art fairs has been canceled in an effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In their stead, online viewing rooms are the new normal.

Ordinarily staged in a massive white tent on Randall’s Island, Frieze New York was canceled earlier this year. In its place, Frieze launched a viewing room platform where about 160 galleries from around the world that had planned to participate in the fair are instead pitching artworks online. (The viewing rooms are open May 8-15, 2020. Free registration is required for access.)

Some galleries are dedicating their viewing rooms to a single artist. Others, similar to Michael Rosenfeld, are concentrating on two or three. Many are showing several artists. The platforms feature images of individual artworks, including installation and detail views; background information about the art, the artist, and their practice is often provided; and, in some cases, prices are included. Available for a limited period of time, viewing rooms are user-friendly making the process of inquiring about a specific work of art with the gallery, easy and direct.

 


Price on Request | BOB THOMPSON (1937–1966), “The Golden Ass,” 1963 (oil on canvas, 62 1/2 x 74 1/2 inches). | © Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 

In its Frieze New York viewing room, Michael Rosenfeld is showcasing and offering for sale 17 paintings by Andrews, Colescott, and Thompson. Images of the works are also available on the gallery’s website, along with installation views displayed in a three-dimensional, white cube-style model. The model approximates what the gallery’s Frieze presentation would have looked like, had the in-person event occurred.

After two months of scrolling and clicking, viewing art exclusively online, it’s refreshing to imagine the real-world experience of walking through an exhibition, even if it’s on a reduced scale and, technically, still virtual. The architectural model provides context—giving a sense of each work’s scale and putting the artworks in conversation with one another.

After two months of scrolling and clicking, it’s refreshing to imagine the real-world experience of walking through an art exhibition, even if it’s on a reduced scale and, technically, still virtual.

POSSESSED WITH AN ACERBIC WIT, Colescott’s insightful and thought-provoking practice explores race and gender relations, often through the lens of Western art history. “Jealousy” (1984), a large-scale painting by Colescott is installed on an exterior wall of the art fair booth, adjacent to Thompson’s “The Golden Ass.”

The Colescott work depicts a white woman wearing a purple strapless evening gown with opera-length gloves. She is standing before heaps of weaponry and related materials designed to inflict harm—guns, bullets, knives, swords, bombs, hand grenades, arrows, heavy metal chains, ropes, and poison. A black man with gray hair who resembles the artist and a white woman, both of them nude, float above the scene embracing. Meanwhile, a disembodied white hand, its fingernails painted red, brandishes a knife at the levitating couple.

Hard to decipher, the scene speaks to dreams and nightmares, or perhaps jealousy and revenge, and typifies the artist’s tendency toward provocation.

 


Price on Request | ROBERT COLESCOTT (1925–2009), “Jealousy,” 1984 (acrylic on canvas, 84 x 72 inches). | Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 

Michael Rosenfeld is offering five works by Colescott. Three works on paper and two paintings. In addition to “Jealousy,” a small 14 x 16-inch acrylic on canvas work titled “The French in Louisiana” (1988) is for sale. The price is $110,000. Less than two years ago, the painting sold for $25,000 at Swann Auction Galleries. “Hot Stuff-Coming Through!” another Colescott work offered in the viewing room for $90,000, sold for $14,400 in 2011 at Swann.

SIX WORKS BY ANDREWS are displayed in the booth’s interior, alongside works by Colescott and Thompson. Eschewing oil paint on canvas because he found it too “sophisticated,” Andrews collaged paper and fabric onto his paintings, embedding them with meaning. Dating from 1964 to 2005, the works for sale include “The Way (Revival Series)” (1995) and “New Arrival (Migrant Series)” (2004).

Eschewing oil paint on canvas because he found it too “sophisticated,” Benny Andrews collaged paper and fabric onto his paintings, embedding them with meaning.

The son of sharecroppers, Andrews was born in rural Plainview, Ga., educated at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and lived and worked in New York City throughout his career. An agitator for change, he co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition in 1969. The group demanded greater access to museums for artists of color in terms of exhibitions, programming, and representation in collections. He taught at Queens College and established an art education program in the New York State prison system.

At the same time, Andrews maintained his practice. Reflecting his biography and his passions, his expressive figuration explores the quotidian of rural African American life and makes statements about American history and social justice issues.

Andrews and Thompson were friends. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery represents the estates of both artists.

As varied as the work is, there are fundamental attributes shared by Colescott, Thompson, and Andrews. Describing its Frieze New York presentation, the gallery notes: “Each artist—faithful to the figure as a timeless symbol of the human condition—revolutionized narrative painting and our understanding of history.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Booth model showing proposed presentation for Frieze New York 2020. | Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 


Price on Request | BENNY ANDREWS (1930–2006), “The Way (Revival Series),” 1995 (oil on canvas with painted fabric collage, 60 x 40 1/4 inches). | © Benny Andrews Estate; Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 


$65,000 | BENNY ANDREWS (1930–2006), “New Arrival (Migrant Series),” 2004 (oil on paper with painted fabric and paper collage, 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 inches). | © Benny Andrews Estate; Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 


Booth model showing proposed presentation for Frieze New York 2020. | Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 


$90,000 | ROBERT COLESCOTT (1925–2009), “Hot Stuff-Coming Through!,” 1991 (acrylic on paper, 41 x 26 inches). | Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 


$95,000 | BOB THOMPSON (1937–1966), “Untitled,” circa 1964 (oil on printed paper mounted on board, 10 7/8 x 10 1/2 inches). | © Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 


Booth model showing proposed presentation for Frieze New York 2020. | Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY

 

BOOKSHELF
“Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott” documents the first comprehensive retrospective of Robert Colescott and includes texts by Lowery Stokes Sims and Matthew Weseley. Organized by the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, the exhibition is currently traveling. The work of Benny Andrews is explored in “Benny Andrews: There Must Be a Heaven” and “American Icons: From Madison to Manhattan, the Art of Benny Andrews, 1948-1997.” With contributions from Judith Wilson, Thelma Golden, and Shamim Momim, “Bob Thompson,” is the first book dedicated solely to the artist’s work.

 

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