LOS ANGELES — Along with many people, my first introduction to Forrest Bess (1911–1977) occurred at the 2012 Whitney Biennial. Artist Robert Gober curated a one room show of Bess’s small-scale paintings alongside photographs and documents detailing his theories of pseudo-hermaphroditic transcendence and corresponding self-surgery.
Every now and then we realize how much we live in a digital mirage. Take Baker Overstreet’s show at Fredericks & Freiser. Although this is the artist’s fourth solo in New York, I hadn’t yet seen his work in the flesh, my only exposure being images and reviews.
Sometimes it’s better to be alone. Here are a few artists who we wouldn’t particularly like to spend a romantic Valentine’s Day with, from the over-sharing to the unstable to the plain unsettling.
In 1981, Bess was reintroduced (or, for many of us) introduced by way of a small one-person exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Barbara Haskell organized the show and there was a small pamphlet available for free. According to the pamphlet, the symbols in Bess’ work were based on “obscure sexual references” and there was something “lurid” about them.
A commenter, Chicken_Fingers, reminded us about this episode of The Antiques Roadshow from Tulsa, Oklahoma, that aired on January 9, 2012.
Forrest Bess was born in Bay City, Texas on October 5, 1911, one year before Agnes Martin (1912-2004) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) joined him on this planet. Martin’s entry point was Macklin, Saskatchewan; Pollock’s was Cody, Wyoming. Martin and Pollock moved to New York in order to study, and left in order to preserve themselves. Both made the paintings by which they became famous after leaving New York.
To walk into the artist Robert Gober’s installation of paintings, photographs and writings by Forrest Bess — a visionary painter and self-described, self-surgically-altered “pseudo-hermaphrodite” — was to encounter art frontloaded with (as the reader put it) “cultural significance while also being visually intoxicating, or mesmerizing, you can choose a description.”