The idea that an artist hires others to create their works is not a new phenomenon. Some think the practice began with Warhol because he was so blatant about the use of assistants to create mass-produced works. But even with masters such as Rubens and Raphael, the use of assistants to produce artworks is an old practice. Whatever the origins, the ubiquitous practice of hiring gifted hands to assist in the production of contemporary artists output is in full stride today. While in the past, the master would task his students with painting backgrounds and other elements of large works. And in return, there was an understanding that the master’s technique and skills would be imparted to the assistant. But in many cases, it is the student who is far more skilled than the artist/celebrity who signs his or her name to the finished work. In some cases it is the student who creates the work from start to finish and receive no recognition for their part.
Enter the Gallerist Mark Miller who is sponsoring a curated show based on this theme of largely ignored assistant artists who do the bulk of the work. As he put it, “I am always on the hunt for emerging and under-represented mid-career artists. These are promising talents who, with some added exposure, could be on the way to greater fame. One of the goals of the gallery is to find the next great talent and help them along to the next stage.”
Miller described the genesis for his gallery as an entry way for new artists, much like immigrants here settled on the Lower East Side, working in obscurity for the assurance of a better life. With this inspiration, he is exhibiting over twenty artists whose time for celebration is long overdue. For all of those young artists creating artworks for Jeff Koons, Julie Heffernan to Yigal Ozire, this exhibit is for you.
One of the centerpieces for this exhibit is a dazzling oval painting by Sofia Bachvarova entitled ‘Beyond the Hanging Garden/Bardo’. In it a nude female figure floats in an almost embryonic state, her face obscured by flurry of hair which almost seems to morph into flame. There is a palpable sense of a suspended moment and as Ms. Bachvarova told me, “I like the idea of suspension because it is the mid-space between above and below, it inherently implies transition and therefore has a charge of potential, yet it is inactive and in limbo – caught between worlds.”
Another standout painting is by Marshall Jones who works for Yigal Ozeris. This oil on panel is titled ‘Ritual’ and features a beautifully rendered female nude who is seated on the heels of her feet, her back to us, facing a wall which is rendered in wonderful texture. Her back is heavily tattooed which of course has ritualistic connotations of its own.
The artist Katie Hemmer offers us two classical nude graphites in which the models, reclining in natural modes with drawings that must have taken much work to complete. It is a reminder that the reason these artists are so important to their employers is because they are often academically well-trained and technically skilled, often filling in the gaps of their employer’s skill sets.
A sculpture which garnered quite a lot of attention by Chie Shimizu called simply ‘Walking’ featuring three men “carrying life’s experiences on their heads” according to the artist. Both the positive and negative space are used well. I enjoyed the figures individual expressions and their seeming determination to carry forward, no matter their lot. As an assistant to Sol LeWitt, Chie produced many of his drawings.
Pulling back the curtain is certainly an apt and very realistic metaphor to describe all these talented artists working away for a wage, but with none of the name recognition of their employers. In some cases, the artists they work for would not be in the galleries they are exhibiting in without the talented artists who do much of the heavy lifting. This wonderful exhibition is pulling them out of the shadows and into the spotlight they so well deserve.