09 December 2014

Who was Richard Florsheim?

"I wish Mrs. Claus hadn't been so impressed by that artist who talked her into welded steel Xmas trees!"

Three years ago I received this Xmas car from Joanne Molina. A Chicagoan herself, she was familiar with the satirical lithographs of Richard Aberle Florsheim.  I was not.  But when I looked at the card again, I was unwilling to recycle it and decided to see what more I could. find.  As the brief biography below demonstrates, I didn't find much information, but I wonder now what Florsheim learned during his time working with the French post-impressionist Emile Bernard.

What I did uncover were hundreds of Florsheim's in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Florsheim's native city.  Many of them are evocative landscapes that moved beyond the techniques that  Florsheim learned in Paris and are worthy of attention.   But  it is Florsheim's delight in the foibles of artists and their followers that I want to present here.

These 'cartoons' were drawn during the second half of the 1950s at a moment of high seriousness in politics and also in the art world where American triumphalism was the preferred mode in  art critics.  Foremost among them was Clement Greenburg who regarded the United States - and probably himself, truth be told, as the guardian of "advanced art" after the philistine rampage of the Nazis through the art collections of Europe before and during World War II.  For Greenberg, the American abstract expressionist painters were the point toward which all previous developments pointed.  For such high seriousness, Pop Art would prove vexing but that wouldn't arrive until the 1960s.
The pompous tone that Greenberg set is still the accepted one today for those who want to have their ideas on art taken seriously.  The terms have changed if only because there are new graduates hoping to make careers for themselves.  It is that tone that makes Florsheim's deflationary tactics so charming.  He was no mean-spirited Philistine; he was a serious artist with credentials.  There may be exponentially more money floating around in the art world today but human nature is much the same as it was when Florsheim created the Florsheim school of artists.

In Florsheim's world, sculptors are an especially wacky bunch. Take Shistokovich whose  scrawny, angular work  resembles a generic Giacometti man. Or Bolofinsky: ["(He) always did say that someday the world would catch up with him."] whose outdoor metalscape anticipated the television antenna.  An apartment dweller thinks that the profusion of antennas atop his building indicate that Bolofinsky's work  is "selling like hotcakes."  A work by Messovich (!) titled Bald Ego looks like nothing so much as an escapee from a psychoanalyst's couch.  His delight in naming his characters reminds me of a comment made about Constance Garnett, the British translator of some seventy 19th century Russian books, who introduced the great Russian novelists to English-speaking readers in the early 20th centuryHer achievement was considerable but she has also been accused of creating one giant lumpen Russian writer in all those works -Tolstoyesvky.

Richard Aberle Florsheim (1916-1979)  came from a wealthy Chicago family.  After studying at the University of Chicago, Florsheim spent two years traveling abroad (1936-38).   While in France Florsheim worked in the atelier of the painter Emile Bernard, a member of the Pint-Aven circle that developed around Paul Gauguin.  During the late 1930s Florsheim exhibited with the Salon des Refus├ęs, .  He returned to Chicago in the summer of 1939 where he rented  a studio.  There he began to produce lithographs and had his first exhibition in 1942.

Images: by Richard Aberle Florsheim, c. 1956-58, are in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.
1. Welded steel Xmas trees.
2.I think it should hang this way.
3.I see what you mean by some "art lover"s being socail climbers.
4. Life class at the School of Contemporary Art.

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