Essential Jim Dine - 07 Apr. to 07 July 2020

Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art
1880 Century Park East Suite 100
Los Angeles

. www.petitpalais.paris.fr

[ Commentary by John Yau ]

Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, which has represented Jim Dine for nearly twenty years, has brought together a retrospective of the artist’s work spanning fifty years of his remarkable career. Beginning with the large collage-painting on paper, Untitled (Gossip) (1970-71), and ending with the monumental, hand-painted, five-panel woodcut, Asleep with his Tools, Jim Dreams (2018), this Jim Dine exhibition features notable examples of the artist’s well-known motifs:  hearts, robes, tools, and the 2nd-century-BCE masterpiece, Venus de Milo, which is in the collection of the Louvre. It also underscores Dine’s capacity to make works that do not fit neatly into art historical categories, such as collage and painting.

An instrumental and innovative artist, Dine has had at least five careers since he and Claes Oldenburg started Judson Gallery in 1959. This endeavor helped move the art world away from Abstract Expressionism and initiated a new era. He was a central figure in authoring, staging, and performing in Happenings, the precursor to Performance Art. He is a poet who writes many of his poems on long sheets of paper tacked to the wall, which is to say he is a poet-performer. He is a painter who began using the motifs of hearts and robes in the mid-1960s, during the rise of Pop Art, though he doesn’t consider himself a Pop artist. He is a draftsman and printmaker whose graphic mastery is beyond dispute. Later in his career, in the early ‘80s, he became a sculptor as well.

Dine uses his motifs as a springboard for plunging into an array of mediums, exploring how far he can take them without losing their essential features. The heart is certainly a motif we become familiar with in our childhood, when we give and receive our first valentines. This is the challenge Dine gave himself early in his career: could he make this familiar image new each time he explored it? At the same time, a gifted draftsman, whose line and touch are unrivaled by anyone in his generation, Dine recognizes that there are always limits, no matter how talented or defiant you are.

When we look at what Dine did with his heart motif in Untitled (Gossip) (1970-71) and Putney Winter Heart #6 (B.B. King) (1972), we get a sense of how innovative and open he was to experiment at a time when many of his peers had settled into a signature style. The other thing that distinguishes his work is his use of language and sense of playfulness.

In 1967, when Dine first went to England, he met the English poet-printers Asa Benveniste and Tom Raworth. By this time, he had already met the American poets Ron Padgett, Robert Creeley, and Ted Berrgian, and was writing poetry every day. Benveniste, through his imprint, Trigram Press, published Dine’s first poetry book, Welcome Home Lovebirds, in 1969. 

Untitled (Gossip) (1970-71) is a work on paper that Dine made while he was living in London. This is reflected in the image of the bowler hat near the middle of the bottom edge, while word “GOSSIP,” printed on a torn piece of paper directly above the bowler hat, affixed near the top edge. Between the word “GOSSIP” and the image of the bowler hat is a cut-out red heart and the illustration of a bright red apple. The heart has been painted red and red spray paint drips down from its lower right side.

Untitled (Gossip) is brimming with questions. Why is the heart “bleeding? Are we supposed to connect the numbers or is this a way of keeping track of all the things the artist has done to the surface. What about the footprints in the lower half, below the heart and above the bowler hat? They are not numbered. What are we to make of them? Don’t the footprints and numbered marks and bits of collage echo the word “gossip,” which is about the circulation of details about a person that are not necessarily true?

By encouraging viewers of this Jim Dine Exhibition to follow the numbers to see if any connection between them can be discerned, Untitled (Gossip) invites us to complete the piece.