David Bruce: The Funniest People in Art — Crime, Critics

Crime

• American artist Keith Haring sold paintings and drawings for thousands of dollars, but he also used to create art for free in such locations as the New York City subways in order to attract a wide audience. Since Mr. Haring didn’t want to be a vandal, he created his art on the black paper used to cover unused billboards. Nevertheless, creating art on the black paper was illegal and on a few occasions he was arrested by police officers who fingerprinted him, then asked for his autograph.

• Oscar Wilde had a low regard for Americans’ knowledge of art. He told a story about a former Rocky Mountain miner ordering a plaster reproduction of the Venus de Milo and being shocked that when it arrived, it had no arms. He sued the company that had sold it to him — and an American court awarded him damages.

• When Valerie Solanis shot Andy Warhol, he collapsed onto the floor, bleeding profusely. Factory regular Billy Name got to him first, and Mr. Warhol told him, “Don’t … don’t … don’t make me laugh. It hurts too much.”

• Pablo Picasso once arrived home to find that he was the victim of a burglary. However, none of his paintings were stolen, only some table linen and his bed.

Critics

• After art critics panned the work of Sarah Bixby Smith, the wife of author Paul Jordan Smith, he was angry, and he decided to paint a work of art in a style that he thought the critics would like. Therefore, he created a crude painting of a woman holding a banana, and he showed it to his wife. They had a good laugh, then forgot about the painting until one of their sons brought home as his guest the art critic of the local newspaper. The art critic loved the painting and asked for information about the artist. Being a creative person, Mr. Smith made up on the spot a name — Pavel Jerdanowitch, a foreign-sounding version of his first two names — and a school of art that he called Disumbrationism. Amazed by the reaction of the local art critic, Mr. Smith then entered the painting in a major art exhibit in 1925. A Paris art magazine published a long article about the painting, and its editor wrote Mr. Jerdanowitch for information about his life. Mr. Smith happily responded to the letter with made-up information. The following year, Mr. Smith created another painting — portraying a large woman washing clothes — and exhibited it in Chicago. This time, Art World magazine published a story about the exhibition and printed a photograph of the painting in its article. Mr. Smith kept the hoax going for a while longer before revealing it. Even that didn’t stop interest in Mr. Jerdanowitch. In 1927, the Vose Galleries of Boston exhibited four “Jerdanowitch” paintings so that the public could see what had fooled the experts.

• Nineteenth-century cartoonist Bernhard Gillam’s first attempt at oil painting was a dismal failure. When he was eighteen years old, he painted a battle between the Aztec Native Americans and the Spanish explorers. The painting was filled with dead and dying soldiers, but when exhibited at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts as number 93, it did not produce the seriously dramatic effect Mr. Gillam wanted. A reviewer in the Brooklyn Eaglewrote, “The sensation of the hour is number 93. There was never anything funnier than the dying men in 93, unless it is the men who are already dead. Don’t fail to see it; it’s the greatest show on earth!” Mr. Gillam used to stand near his painting, listening to people laugh at what he had meant to be a deadly serious painting.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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