Exhibitions

Arnold Mesches: Coming Attractions

Jan 24–Apr 18, 2009

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Arnold Mesches: Coming Attractions
Jan 24–Apr 18, 2009

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Arnold Mesches: Coming Attractions, 2009 (detail)

Arnold Mesches has created unabashedly figurative work for more than six decades and has emerged as a seminal figure in American painting and a remarkably fresh voice in contemporary art. In the West Coast debut of new paintings that explore the American condition, Arnold Mesches: Coming Attractions opens at the Santa Monica Museum of Art on January 24 and will be on view through April 18, 2009.

Mesches’ most recent work delves into dark periods of American history and situates them in a hauntingly contemporary landscape. His work combines an interest in twentieth century political and social conflicts with a surrealist approach to painting­–offsetting frank, historical moments with rich, melodramatic dreamscapes.

This new exhibition of Mesches’ work, curated by Lisa Melandri, SMMoA’s Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs, and uniquely installed in two Project Rooms, will feature selections from his most recent series, including landscapes and interiors. Aptly titled, Coming Attractions alludes to the works’ theatrical elements, as well as to a portent of what might be to come.

Mesches’ large-scale interiors and landscape canvases, are laden with acerbic colors and vigorous brushwork. In his interiors, Mesches fills opulent concert halls and antique salons with stark reminders of social and political realities, rendered in deep blacks, austere whites, and sickly greens against the blazing colors of their surroundings. Mesches’ landscapes are similarly harrowing, depicting glimpses of human existence between the trunks of decaying trees. These canvases are portraits of a disturbing, looming future, both absurd and poignant, as well as emotionally authentic.

The theatricality and grandeur of the paintings evoke Mesches’ own history working in the movie industry during the 1940s and 50s in Los Angeles, and their skepticism and ominous sensibility harkens back to the 27 years he was subject to heavy scrutiny by the FBI for his participation in peace marches and demonstrations against McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee. Mesches eventually obtained his 760-page FBI file through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and turned dozens of the documents–crisply typed white pages thick with black bars, dating from 1945 to 1972–into a popular and critically acclaimed art exhibition, The FBI Files.

Throughout his 60-plus-year career as an artist, Mesches has woven many narratives into lush and virtuosic paintings, and in Coming Attractions Mesches affirms that he is as potent as a painter and storyteller as ever. His life’s work serves as a remarkable record of one artist’s struggle to come to terms with the turmoil of the twentieth century. He has stood staunchly for using contemporary art as a vehicle for protest, a visual amplifier of societal good and evil.

Coming Attractions also marks a homecoming for Mesches, who was born in the Bronx, grew up in Buffalo, New York, and moved to Los Angeles in 1943 to accept a scholarship at the Art Center School (now Art Center College of Design). Mesches spent nearly half his life in L.A., and came into his own here in the mid 1940s and into the 50s, becoming known and revered for his socially critical paintings and his portraits. He now resides in Gainesville, Florida. He is the recipient of many awards, including the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2002).

Mesches has exhibited extensively throughout the United States and abroad in 125 solo exhibitions and countless group shows, and his works are included in many prestigious public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Albright-Knox Museum, and the High Museum of Art. However, Mesches has still not received the global recognition or broad appreciation he so deserves for his influence and importance to the canon of contemporary art. As an antidote to this oversight, SMMoA will install Mesches’ work in two Project Rooms, doubling the museum space normally allotted to such exhibitions.