I have recently been studying contemporary art history with David Cohen at the Yellow Chair Workshop in Brooklyn. An assignment for the course was to pretend we were a museum curator. We had to position ourselves in the canon of contemporary art using a work by a well known artist from the 60's, another from the past ten years, and a current piece of our own. Here is what I wrote - sort of tongue-in-cheek. It was a great, fun activity to complete!
"It is with great pleasure that the Yellow Chair Museum welcomes you to the breakthrough exhibit, “Out of a Nutt Grow Two Mighty Babes”.
The work of Jim Nutt (b. 1938, Pittsfield, MA), Sarah Lucas (b. 1962, London, UK), and Diane Hulse (b. 1949, Chicago, IL) has not been shown together before this exhibition.
Jim Nutt is still an actively producing artist, but his most renowned work was painted in the 1960’s when he was a member of the “Hairy Who?” in Chicago. Nutt’s work from this era is distorted portraits and figure groupings that are loaded with symbols, vulgarities, and sexual innuendos. Featured here on these walls is Nutt’s reverse acrylic painting on Plexiglas, “Rosy Comon,” created in 1967-68.
Sarah Lucas is also a currently practicing artist. She came to fame as a sculptor in the early 1990’s as a member of the Young British Artists (YBA) group that also included luminaries such as Damien Hirst. Lucas and the other YBAs were known for the shock value of their art. Lucas’s “Honey Pie” was created in 2020. It is made of non-traditional materials such as stuffed pantyhose and tights. “Honey Pie” is a natural outgrowth of Lucas’s 1990’s Bunny series and is showcased here.
Born between Nutt and Lucas (no pun intended) and influenced by both, Diane Hulse is a mixed media, abstract artist who has recently retired to devote her full time to the creation of her art work. Her paintings make emotional connections to the abuse of women. Hulse’s 24” x 24” acrylic painting on Styrofoam was created in 2021 and is entitled “Dick’s Face.”
Many connections are evident among the three works in “Out of a Nutt Grow Two Mighty Babes.” It is unclear whether Lucas and Nutt are aware of each other’s work, but Hulse certainly traces her roots to both of them. All three pieces show similarities of palette, line and shape characteristics, symbolism, materials, intention, and narrative. All three are intended to shock while mitigating the shock factor with the humor of absurdity and subtle puns in the titles. The bright, flat colors appear to be color-coordinated with the palettes of each other, almost as if a decorator had chosen the three pieces to complement the furniture of a trendy New York apartment. The colors call for attention, and they vibrate. There is nothing soft or subtle about any of the vivid, clear hues, and the loud colors emphasize the shocking imagery. Organic and flowing lines and shapes hug the colors, echoing body part shapes and functions.
Through color, line, and shape, the narrative and its associations dominate the imagery, weaving together a coherent whole. Questions are begged by what is said and what is left out of the works. What is dripping out of Rosy’s nose? What is that white hand to the lower left doing on Hulse’s piece? What happened to Honey Pie’s John? Materials are non-traditional – Styrofoam, pantyhose, Plexiglas – lending support to themes of the common and the vulgar. There are no stately oil on canvas images here. Perhaps the stories are dreams or even nightmares. Honey Pie, Dick’s Face, and Rosy Comon are dripping with adolescent humor. Sex, guts, gore, breasts, penises, and fetishes abound.
All three works in “Out of a Nutt Grow Two Mighty Babes” are also countercultural. The “Academy” during Nutt’s heyday was led by the minimalists and conceptual artists of the 60’s. Nutt was considered an outsider, even though he was well-schooled in “Academy” learning from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Lucas was the “bad girl” of the YBAs and was an outsider because of her gender and working class roots. She partied and made art harder than all of the blokes, even contending that she “out-bloked the blokes.” Hulse is a senior citizen who is “supposed” to have learned proper behavior 50 years ago. Even though they are somewhat shocking, all three pieces also have charm, which is an enormous feat for artists who challenge the mainstream, as Nutt, Lucas and Hulse continue to do."