Collecting Contemporary, 1960-2015: Selections from the Schorr Collection
Collecting Contemporary, 1960–2015: Selections from the Schorr Collection features paintings, drawings, and photographs acquired by Lenore and Herbert Schorr, Graduate School Class of 1963, over the last forty-five years. Created by a range of pioneering artists, these works serve as double portraits. On the one hand, they represent the Art Museum’s long-standing relationship with the Schorrs, one based on a shared commitment not only to modern and contemporary art but also to teaching and learning. On the other, they reconstruct different but overlapping artistic communities—bands of cohorts who left indelible imprints on the art worlds of their day.
Collecting Contemporary illuminates pivotal moments in the development of postwar American art, from the heyday of Pop art in the 1960s through the birth of the downtown New York art scene in the 1980s to the arrival of a new group of female photographers in the 1990s. Although these works span four decades and attest to radically different priorities on the part of the artists, they each demonstrate an overarching interest in American visual culture. Together, these works speak to an enduring fascination with photography, video, film, advertising, mass media, and pop culture among generations of American artists. A subject of incredible potential and flexibility, American visual culture allowed the artists seen here to explore a variety of issues, including the character of identity, gender, and subjectivity and the status of landscape and representation in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
The exhibition opens with several prints and paintings by now-canonical Pop artists, including Jasper Johns, Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol. These works range from Katz’s poignant study of an androgynous young man rendered with flat planes of color to Lichtenstein’s irreverent twist on Claude Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral, rendered with a stencil to transform Monet’s abbreviated brushstrokes into simulated benday dots. Also featured are Warhol’s twin portraits of Jackie Kennedy, made the year after President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Using spray paint and a silkscreen, Warhol based his depictions of the First Lady on a photograph that circulated widely in the popular press, thereby magnifying the dark side of public spectatorship and celebrity obsession. In the case of each work, the world of mechanically printed cartoons, comic strips, and advertisements invades the once-sacrosanct realm of fine art.
Viewers will also find in Collecting Contemporary two exceptional works by an artist with whom the Schorrs established a close relationship very early in his career: Jean-Michel Basquiat, who belonged to a vibrant community on New York’s Lower East Side in the late 1970s and 1980s. The first is Basquiat’s 1981 Untitled painting, which demonstrates the artist’s allegiance to graffiti art as well as his fascination with urban life. Its companion is the dynamic mixed-media assemblage Leonardo da Vinci’s Greatest Hits (1982). Built out of found pieces of wood and composed mostly of word and image fragments, this elliptical work refers to anatomical studies found in Leonardo’s notebooks and Gray’s Anatomy as well as the African American folk hero John Henry—the fictional steel-driver who bested the steam-powered hammer only to die at his moment of victory.
The Basquiats are joined by a 1981 painting by Keith Haring. Dense with symbolism and critical commentary, the Haring is a bold allegory about police brutality and social repression. These three works are complemented by others created by a younger generation of artists, including Ben Jones (of the collaborative team Paper Rad), Scoli Acosta, and Nick Mauss, who advance their predecessors’ commitment to drawing and the graphic arts, finding inspiration in sources as disparate as low-tech video animation and Buddhist philosophy.
The exhibition concludes with the work of three groundbreaking photographers—Dana Hoey, Justine Kurland, and Malerie Marder—who recalibrated photography at the end of the twentieth century. Committed storytellers, these photographers staged enigmatic, often disconcerting vignettes that had the appearance of casual snapshots. Hoey, Kurland, and Marder privileged female subjects, at least early in their careers, and to their depictions of women they brought a distinctly feminist perspective, upending gender stereotypes along with the conventions that have long governed the depiction of female bodies.
All of the works in this exhibition have been donated to Princeton by Herb and Lenore Schorr or have been on long-term loan to Princeton for two and a half decades. Since the late 1970s, the Schorrs have given ninety-one works of art to the Museum. The first, a print by Jasper Johns, arrived in 1978, and the most recent, a painting by Israel Lund, in 2015. Whether loans or gifts, the works in the Schorrs’ collection have played a crucial role in fostering the Museum’s educational mission, serving as objects of study and discussion for thousands of students, faculty, and members of the general public.
Haskell Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Collecting Contemporary, 1960–2015: Selections from the Schorr Collection has been made possible by the Virginia and Bagley Wright, Class of 1946, Program Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art, the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund, and the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.