Gold is mud” – Jerry Jofen (quoting his maternal grandfather, the Alter of Novaradok)
“Humble everyday things are words and sentences in which I compose my poems“ – Salvatore Meo
“Dust is part of my concept” – May Wilson
PAVEL ZOUBOK GALLERY invites you to ROUGH, an exhibition of three pioneering artists whose works of the early to mid-1960s represent an embrace of the most humble of found materials, as well as a conscious rejection of bourgeois “good taste” and the commodification of art. Each of their stories reflects a physical and ideological dislocation in the pursuit of avant-garde ideals, resulting in works that are materially rough and metaphorically rich.
Please join us for the opening reception on Thursday, February 10, 2011 from 6-8pm or during the run of the exhibition, which continues through March 12.
Painter, collagist and filmmaker JERRY JOFEN (1925-1993) was an elusive, yet well-known presence in the New York art world of the late 1950s through the 1970s. Jofen created intimate abstractions from discarded scraps of found paper, staples, string and other materials that are reflective of his own biography. He was born into a scholarly rabbinical family in Bialystok Poland, fled with his parents across the Soviet Union in 1941 and arrived in the United States on the last refugee-filled ship via Japan. He eventually moved from San Francisco to New York, where he wandered the streets, frequenting cafes and all-night movie houses, and read poetry influenced by Mallarmé and Rimbaud. Curator Klaus Kertess writes, “Jerry Jofen was a migrant in search of light. Collage formed his art and his life. Makeshift procedures and the dispersal of the found and discarded in restless search for coherence, so often endemic to collage, parallel the make-do strategies, vagaries and serendipity of immigrant life.” ROUGH features a series of densely layered collage paintings from the early 1960s made on wallpaper samples. These intimately scaled works reflect the painterly concerns of Abstract Expressionism with a Dadaist embrace of the commonplace.
While Jofen was known among the denizens of the art world (his East Village loft was a well-known spot where Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures was first screened), his work was rarely shown during his lifetime. His collage-like films have been screened at The Museum of Modern Art, the Jewish Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and most recently Anthology Film Archives. Jofen’s work has been regularly exhibited at Pavel Zoubok Gallery since 2005.
An iconoclast and trailblazer, SALVATORE MEO (1914-2004) created mixed media constructions with a particular interest in drawing and gestural abstraction. To say that his collages and assemblages drew upon the most humble of materials would be an understatement. His primary sources were broken and/or discarded objects from the street - dresser drawers, old toys, scraps of clothes, torn packages, shoe heels, bones, string, and rusted wire. Meo was not concerned with the alchemical transformation of the commonplace, the search for hidden “jewels”, or the Surrealist double-entendre of the objet trouve. Rather, his was a poetic exploration of abandonment, decay and destruction. In contrast to his Pop and Nouveau Realist contemporaries such as Robert Rauschenberg and Mimmo Rotella, Meo rejected the seductive imagery of the commercial world. His works reverberate with a melancholy and sense of alienation reflecting not only his estrangement from the cultural mainstream, but his deep empathy for the dispossessed, be they objects or people. In this sense, his work shares a greater affinity with contemporary figures such as Jannis Kounellis and David Hammons.
Meo exhibited widely during the 1950s with Burri, Capogrossi, Dorazio, Matta, Prampolini, Rotella and others. While his pioneering use of found materials eluded general audiences, his influence on the artists of the period and those that followed was almost universally acknowledged by progressive critics. Meo’s political rejection by the jury of the 1956 Venice Biennale was reversed by his inclusion in the next Biennale. Three years later, William C. Seitz included Meo in his seminal exhibition “The Art of Assemblage” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This was the first major museum survey of the medium and included important works by Picasso, Schwitters, Rauschenberg, Bontecou, Rotella and many modern and contemporary masters. Simultaneously, the Charles Egan Gallery presented a solo exhibition of Meo’s assemblages from 1946-1961, with favorable reviews published in The New York Times and Art News. Noted Italian critics Emilio Villa and Mario Diacono presented Salvatore Meo at the Metropolitan Gallery in Rome. In 2009 Meo’s work was reintroduced to American audiences through the exhibitions Reconstruction: The Art of Salvatore Meo at Pavel Zoubok Gallery and Salvatore Meo: Assemblages (1948-1978), at the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery (The University of the Arts, Philadelphia), curated by Sid Sachs.
MAY WILSON (1905-1986) A pioneer of the “Mail Art” movement of the 1950s and 1960s and a singular voice in the artistic landscape of Feminism, MAY WILSON defied the accepted standards of the art world and of society, creating mixed-media works that explore the construction of gender and identity. Originally from Baltimore, Wilson escaped her life as a suburban housewife at the age of 42, when she committed herself to the idea of becoming an artist, enrolling in correspondence classes in fine art and art history. She produced what were regarded as “primitive” paintings by those in the surrounding suburban area – brightly colored canvases that lacked the spatial depth of Realism, reflecting the Modernist influence of Cezanne and his followers. In 1956 the artist’s son, author and critic William S. Wilson, introduced his mother to the artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995). The artistic exchange between the two not only fostered the growth of Johnson’s ever-expanding network, but also provided Wilson with the much needed support and encouragement to experiment with unconventional materials and ideas, eventually working through the visual logic of abstraction to the expressive possibilities of three-dimensional construction.
Wilson’s move into the avant-garde art scene of New York City in 1966 quickly won her the moniker “Grandma Moses of the Underground”. This well-deserved title not only reflects her leap from one life into another, but also a desire to liberate herself and the things around her from the strictures of convention. ROUGH features the artist’s signature wrapped dolls and objects, (mummified abstractions that parallel the work of artists like Christo and Jeanne-Claude), as well as densely wrought constructions of cast-off found objects. May Wilson’s daring reconstruction of art and life not only pushed the boundaries of polite good taste, but also offered an alternative vision of the world, one in which our trash became her treasure. May Wilson is included in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and others. Recent exhibitions include Ridiculous Portraits at the Morristown Museum and Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968 at the Brooklyn Museum.