Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible
Amongst a sea of plastic boobs, manicured humans, movie stars, gracious art donors and the crème de la crème of the Los Angeles art world scene at the recent annual Hammer Museum gala, I, with cocktail in hand on too tall shoes and squeezed into a tight, Victorian rose adorned dress, found my way into the Forest Bess exhibition finding not only the solace I sought but then some.
Bess (who died in 1977) concocted little paintings in a world that loves the overblown and these hung preciously, single file across a few rooms at eye level, each beckoning me in to witness the tortured yet simultaneously calm world within the rudimentary yet intentional primal wooden frames. I found myself feeling comforted, as if I had just popped a valium, while looking at the articulation of many “visions” the hermit artist professed to have seen that influenced all of his paintings –that is unless he was expressing his conflicted sexuality which laid bare an adjacent vulnerability to the vision pieces.
A man who painted and lived in isolation, Bess was both lauded and ignored in his lifetime but one thing remains the same, he laid bare his interior world for us all to see and in that brash confessional on canvas gave us something to crawl into with him; perhaps much like the womb, where pretension has yet to be born and we are all one in the same alone in the black stuff with our contradictory insecurities and flamboyancies before the opportunity to lay it bare for all the world to see or not. He chose to, and it’s this fact that looms overhead in the starkly lit museum halls giving great due to a master who was not afraid to unroll the machinations of his singular mind for the majority of us who cannot.
Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, organized by the Menil Collection, presents 50 of the artist’s visionary paintings dating from 1946 to 1970. This exhibition will also include a contribution by Robert Gober that expands upon his presentation at the Whitney in 2012 that was called The Man That Got Away. Works in the exhibition come from the Menil’s own holdings, private lenders in the United States and Europe, and major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
FORREST BESS, SEEING THINGS INVISIBLE, HAMMER MUSEUM, LOS ANGELES through JANUARY 5, 2014