You might say that Pop artist Robert Indiana (b. 1928) lived the American Dream. Throughout the artist’s early childhood in Indiana, his family lived in poverty. They moved 21 times before Indiana turned 17, and his mother worked as a waitress in greasy spoon diners to make ends meet. Flash forward to the late 1950’s, and Indiana was a 20-something living in New York City and cavorting with the likes of Andy Warhol and Wynn Chamberlain. His hard-edged oil compositions bearing bright colors, provocative phrases and culturally significant numbers had caught the eye of the contemporary art world. In 1965, Indiana designed a Christmas card for MoMA featuring scarlet, stacked letters that spelled out “LOVE.” It would become his most iconic image, landing on a USPS postage stamp in 1973.
A few years before he created the LOVE image, Indiana looked back on his path to success with the first painting in his American Dream series. The same composition appears in Indiana’s 1997 serigraph Tilt from The American Dream, which is new to the Zane Bennett Contemporary collection. In the image, highly personal symbolism mingles with universal markers of Americanism.
The circles and stars that appear throughout the piece riff on advertising aesthetics of the period. In the black and yellow circle at top left, the numbers reference highways he roamed as a young man (including Route 66). The phrases “TAKE ALL” and “THE AMERICAN DREAM” represent an industrious but viciously competitive national ethos. In the bottom left circle, the word “TILT” evokes the pinball machines that Indiana encountered in the diners where his mother worked, and later in dive bars that he frequented. When paired with the other words in the tableau, “TILT” throws the egalitarian premise of The American Dream into question. This was the first of nine images in the American Dream series, created between 1961 and 2001. Tilt from the American Dream represents of Indiana’s epic, career-spanning exploration of the promises and pitfalls of American idealism.
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) is having a moment—though you could argue that the postmodern provocateur has been en mode since the midcentury. In any case, the Museum of Modern Art’s blockbuster survey show Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends recently closed in New York, and SFMOMA’s manifestation of the exhibition opens in late November. The new show is titled Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules, a reference to the artist’s legendary erasure of a Willem De Kooning drawing in the name of art. It was a seminal moment in his early career, but hardly characteristic of the work he would produce in the following decades.
Rauschenberg was a master of addition rather than subtraction, fearlessly layering a vast arsenal of bizarre materials to create sculptural paintings, painted sculptures and three-dimensional drawings that he referred to as “Combines.” Cock Sure, a mixed-media print that he produced with Pace in the 1990’s, represents a late chapter of his persistent experimentation. “Cock Sure is an extension of his curiosity, applying paint directly onto the glass surface, increasing the depth of the work so that it became three-dimensional,” wrote Art Daily. “The work is characteristically by Rauschenberg as seen through the inclusion of everyday images: an open sign, chickens, a windmill, and a dog resting by a brick wall.” Scroll down to view more works by Rauschenberg in the Zane Bennett Contemporary collection.
Robert Rauschenberg Arcanum VIII
22.5 x 15.5 in
Robert Rauschenberg Arcanum V
color silkscreen with hand-coloring and collage on paper
22.5 x 15.5 in
“My pictures are full of climates, abstract climates. They’re not nature per se, but a feeling,” said Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011). A second-generation Abstract Expressionist painter, Frankenthaler became active in the New York School of the 1950s, initially influenced by artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky. She gained prominence with her invention of the color-stain technique—applying thin washes of paint to unprimed canvas—in her iconic Mountains and Sea (1952).
Frankenthaler’s works balance abstraction with elements of landscape and figuration, as seen in her 1987 lithograph Yellow Jack. The work transports the viewer to a calm seashore—or perhaps a cool desert—after dusk, with the rising moon’s bright yellow light bleeding from the composition’s edges. “This complicated relationship to landscape presents a constant tension in her art,” notes the Clark Art Institute in the exhibition materials for their current show, As In Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings. “[Her works] are primarily abstract, yet reveal recognizable elements from the landscape that function, paradoxically, to reinforce their abstraction: as in nature, but not as in nature.”
Image: Helen Frankenthaler, Yellow Jack, 1987, lithograph, 30 x 36 in.