11 December 2021

Richard Florsheim: A Man For The Season

Ten years ago I received this Xmas card from Joanne Molina, editor of the online decorative arts magazine The Curated Object. As a Chicagoan, Joanne was familiar with the satirical lithographs of Chicago native Richard Florsheim (1916-1979). Their whimsical qualities delighted me. 

I discovered  hundreds of Florsheims.  There are many landscapes that hint at the influence of Emile Bernard on the younger artist and they are worthy of attention but it is Florsheim's delight in the foibles of artists and their followers that makes merry. 

Apparently, many Florsheim 'cartoons' date for the late 1950s, a moment of high seriousness and outright pomposity in the art world. The preferred mode in criticism was American triumphalism and its chief promoter was Clement Greenberg, who regarded the U.S. - and probably himself, truth be told -  as the arbiter of "advanced " art in contrast to the no so distant Nazi rampage through the art collections of Europe. Pop Art as a provocation was yet to come.

The "tablets brought down from the mountain" tone that Greenberg perfected has survived as the lingua franca for critics hoping to be taken seriously. In contrast, Florsheim's deflationary tactics are witty.  The man was no mean-spirited Philistine; he was an artist with serious credentials. There is exponentially more money at play in today's art world than there was in the post-war world but human nature remains pretty much the same as it did in the Florsheim School of Artists.

In the art world according to Florsheim, sculptors are presented as a wacky bunch. Take one Shistokovich, whose scrawny, angular figures are refractions of Giacometti characters.  Or Bolofinsky (H)e always did say that someday the world would catch up with him.") whose outdoor metalscapes  were forerunners of the television antenna. An apartment dweller thinks that the profusion of antennas .atop his building means that Bolofinsky's work is "selling like hotcakes." A work by Messovich titled Bald Ego looks like a patient on a psychiatrist's couch. Florheim's delight in naming his characters reminds me of a comment that was made about Constance Garnett, the British translator who introduced the great Russian writers of 19th century to e English-speaking readers. Her achievements were heroic but she has also been accused of creating one great lumpen writer named Tolstoyevsky.

Richard Aberle Florsheim (1916-1979) came from a wealthy Chicago family. After studying from the University of Chicago, Florsheim spent two years abroad (1936-38) where he worked in the atelier of the French post-impressionist painter Emile Bernard and showed his work at the Salon des  Refuses. Returning to Chicago in the summer of 1939, Florsheim rented a studio of his own. There he began making lithographs and had his forst exhibition in 1942.

Images by Richard Florsheim are in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicag:
1.  Welded Steel Xmas Trees
2.  I think it should hang this way.


Tania said...

Thanks for the fantasy, Jane, we need it so much !

Jane said...

Tania, Florsheim was an unexpected gift from the wonderful Joanne Molina