Weldon Kees (via denniscooper-theweaklings)

Cambridge, MA — The first thing I wanted to see, for reasons that will become clear in a few days, was a Walter Gropius building. Instead, the first thing I came across was the most talented Nebraskan you’ve never heard of.

I passed Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge on my way to look at an old Walter Gropius building, and the name, taken from a Borges story I’ve read and love, drew me in.

What was there?

A smoking gun. An exhibition of work by Weldon Kees.

On July 19, 1955, the widely renowned poet/critic/writer/painter/filmmaker/prolific and jazzy wunderkind Weldon Kees, who got bored with poems and fiction and taught himself to paint so fast and so well that it was practically a matter of minutes before he was showing his work alongside Picasso at the Whitney Museum, making friends with Willem de Kooning, and almost replacing Clement Greenberg as the art critic at The Nation, vanished with barely a trace. The smoking gun, in his case, was an abandoned Plymouth Savoy, keys still in the ignition, and all of it within a stone’s throw of the Golden Gate Bridge – which suggests a particular end to things. But no evidence ever washed ashore or otherwise surfaced to verify that that’s the way he went. Like an apparition, Weldon Kees simply dissipated, leaving behind his fictions, poems, and paintings.

Weldon Kees, “Abstraction” (nd) oil on canvas, 42 in. x 32 in.

So although I’d set out for Gropius, I wound up stumbling startled into a question that I can follow to the Bay Area and a handful of work in a wonderfully intimate show, entitled New Intangibles, about an oft-forgotten artist.

It’s a small but broad collection of his paintings, most on loan from private owners. The show includes Robert Rauschenberg-like newspaper collage work and a thoroughly Hitchcock-influenced black and white short film called Hotel Apex(filmed in a bombed out hotel in New York of once upon many years ago) as well as a representative sample of Kees paintings.

Even in such a condensed show, Kees comes across as a very fidgety polymath — the artist who’ll try anything, but will only until he’s figured it out. After which, he wearily discards the technique and moves on, and on, and on.

Weldon Kees, “Monument” (1947) oil on canvas, 48 in. x 36 in.

Kees’s painting does rapidfire mimicry, shape shifting through slight variations on Picasso, Miró, Matisse, that are all as accurate as a parakeet with just enough palette tweaking and geometry to stand apart.

Then I got to the Gropius building.

New Intangibles at the Pierre Menard Gallery (10 Arrow Street, Cambridge, MA) continues until October 10.

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Ian Epstein

Ian Epstein is a freelance writer and photographer living in New York City. He has worked for The...