As I suggested in my Wall Street Journal review today—Rewriting the History of Abstract Expressionism—the Parrish Art Museum’s “uneven but tantalizing sampling” of the work of Alfonso Ossorio emphasizes the phase from his voluminous output that I find least engaging: the works created when he was under the spell of his friend, Jackson Pollock. Ossorio’s laborious, clotted compositions suffer by comparison with Pollock’s instinctive greatness. As is often the case when good artists are influenced by geniuses (think Picasso), Pollock’s effect on Ossorio often seems to have been more limiting than liberating.
The Ossorio/Pollock connection was as much personal as artistic: In 1952, Ossorio arranged for his two friends, Pollock and Dubuffet, to get acquainted over dinner at Pollock’s home. But the erratic host never showed up and the American and Frenchman never met.
A more tragic missed connection was Pollock’s failure to show up at a 1956 party at Ossorio’s lavish estate, The Creeks. As he drove there, Pollock changed his mind, turned around and headed home. On that drunken journey he suffered his fatal car crash.
What I think of as authentic Ossorio—the artist speaking in his own distinctive voice—is the “outsider” work of this artworld insider. Both he and Dubuffet shared a passion for “Art Brut”—the creations of “obscure individuals, alien to the milieu of professional artists,” as described by Dubuffet. Ossorio for a time housed Dubuffet’s Art Brut collection at The Creeks.
Ossorio’s first period of freewheeling productivity was (as I discussed in my piece) the time when his return to his native Philippines unleashed the flood of 1950 Victorias Drawings, made with the wax-resist method (described in my piece). These, for me, were the highlights of the Parrish show, Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet.
In my prior blog post, I published my installation shot of those paintings at the Parrish. Below are close-ups of two of them. The first is cut into an irregular shape; the second has interior cutouts:
As I mentioned in my piece, the Ossorio Foundation, Southampton (which loaned “Untitled”), has drawers full of these rarely seen, jaw-dropping gems. (You’ll see more of these in my CultureGrrl Video, at the bottom of this post.)
Here’s one of the more successful of Ossorio’s Abstract Expressionist-influenced works, which marries Pollock’s looping skeins of pigment with Ossorio’s ghostly mother-and child images that haunt his Victorias works:
Ossorio’s other great period of feverish, idiosyncratic activity came too late for the 1948-1952 focus of the museum’s show—the 1960s Congregations series, monumental assemblages of found objects. These, as shown in my video, dominate the installation at the foundation’s spacious warehouse. They were also the subject of a 1997 exhibition at the Parrish.
The biggest letdown of the Parrish show is its failure to include any of the classic poured paintings by Pollock, who (for obvious reasons) was given top billing in the show’s title. A no-show at the Parrish, which relied heavily on relatively modest black Pollocks, was the star at the exhibition’s first venue, the Phillips Collection, Washington:
At the Phillips, it was tellingly juxtaposed with this allover Dubuffet, photographed at the Parrish:Two evocative juxtapositions that did enrich the Parrish show, which I mentioned in my article, were this one…
…and this one:
Now come join me on a tour with the Parrish show’s co-curator, Klaus Ottmann, and then swing over (at 6:05 in the video) to the nearby Ossorio Foundation for an inside look at its holdings with its president, Nicole Vanasse (a relative of the late dancer Ted Dragon, Ossorio’s lifelong partner). As a child, Nikki had helped scavenge colorful plastic, discarded by the Pro-Brush company, that had pooled and cooled into interesting shapes. These blobs soon found their way onto Ossorio’s panel-mounted Congregations, which you’ll get to see here: