Once Again We See That…

I worked at a major art museum for almost seven years.

This experience exposed me to, and helped me learn about, art from ancient to contemporary times.

My primary takeaway was this:

There is no such thing as “great” art or “bad” art, regardless of what art “experts” – including art curators and art critics and art dealers and art historians and art collectors – proclaim.

All judgment of art is totally subjective.

And any value placed on art is determined only by what people are willing to pay for it.

Take, for example, the French post-impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890).  He sold one painting in his lifetime.  

One hundred years after van Gogh’s death, in 1990, his Portrait of Dr. Gachet (pictured) sold at auction for $75 million.

Van Gogh was destitute when he died.  When he gave his his drawings and paintings to people – including his mother – most of the recipients threw it away (including his mother).

One man’s (or woman’s) trash back then, now transformed into treasures because of what people will pay for it.

Art experts are in the business of pointing to what they consider “art” and deem it “bad” or “great.”

But the only worthwhile criteria are:

Do you like it?  Love it?  Would you have it in your home?  Not as an investment, but because you connect with it?

Then there’s that word itself:

What is “art”?

Definitions are easy to find – here’s one:

Art is a highly diverse range of human activities engaged in creating visual, auditory, or performed artifacts – artworks – that express the author’s imaginative or technical skill, and are intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.

So if I’m the “author” who creates this and I call it “art…”

Is this “art”?

Or does a so-called expert have to designate it as “art”?

It’s likely no expert would designate my creation as “art.”

But this, of which the above image is a part:

Why, this is not only “art,” it’s Great Art!  It’s a masterpiece! 

After all…

It’s by Picasso.

Phooey on that.

When it comes to art, this old idiom is SO true:

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Case in point:

Above left is how New York’s iconic, 73-foot-tall Washington Square Arch normally looks.  On the right is the same arch in 1980, after it was “wrapped” by then-famous artist Francis Hines. 

The wrapping required 8,000 yards of polyester gauze, mechanical devices, cables and ropes, and – according to what I read online – “the tension created represents the ‘human struggle to free itself from restricting forces.’”

Hines’ creation was also described as “a giant bandage for a wounded monument.”

The wrapping stayed in place for six days, was removed, and then the event was mostly forgotten.

And, eventually, so was artist Francis Hines.

Until this recent story:

According to this and other articles:

“Hines was born in 1920, grew up in Cleveland, served in World War II, and became an illustrator for magazines and department store ads.”

Hines made a good living, and at the same time was creating personal art.  But, says Peter Falk, an art historian and publisher (read:  “expert”), Hines’ personal art “was about the process, not about selling or displaying his work.”

I find that hard to believe.

Artists – whether they’re painters or sculptors or writers or actors or dancers – rarely (if ever) create just for the sake of creating.  When they paint or sculpt or write or act or dance, they want their efforts to be seen or read or heard.  They want recognition and validation.

And they want to get paid for it.

Of course they do!

Maybe Hines’ work wasn’t selling because it looked like this:

And in the 1980s, people were buying this:

So for decades, once Hines finished a piece, he would ship it from his New York studio to a barn he was renting in Watertown, CT where it would be wrapped in plastic and stored.

Falk also said – rather snarkily, I thought – “Francis Hines had his 15 minutes of fame in 1980, when he wrapped the Washington Square Arch.”

A different article put it this way:  Hines kept a low profile.

Hines (pictured) died in 2016 at age 96.

His estate decided to dispose of the massive collection because the Connecticut barn’s owner was selling the property.

Two 40-yard dumpsters filled with sculptures and paintings had already been hauled away to a landfill.

In 2017, contractor George Martin was helping dispose of the art.

Martin had a friend named Jared Whipple (pictured), a Waterbury, CT mechanic and skateboard enthusiast.  Martin thought Whipple might like some of the paintings – they were just going to the dump, after all – because the paintings included images of car parts.

Whipple arrived to find a dumpster, full of artwork – paintings, sculptures and small drawings – some of it individually wrapped in thick plastic, all of it covered in dust and dirt:

According to this April 17 article:

“But as they unwrapped the paintings, something clicked:  ‘And I’m just like, Man, this stuff!  Who is this guy?’ Whipple exclaimed.”  

It took some time for Whipple to discover artist Hines’ name, and Whipple, says the article…

“…became consumed by the mystery of Francis Hines:  ‘I was obsessed with the research.  Every day, whether I’m at work, whether I’m home.’”

Whipple, determined to resurrect Hines’ reputation, began calling New York art galleries.  “I got so many doors shut in my face,” he said.

“‘I’ve always been a mechanic and I’m known in the skateboarding world but not in the art world.  So trying to get people to even open your emails and take you seriously was a huge challenge,’ said Whipple.”

At this point, one man’s trash is still another man’s trash.

Somehow, Whipple connected with the snarky Peter Falk, who this time was considerably less snarky about Hines’ work:

“‘I was really impressed.  I mean, I was blown away by the originality that I saw,’ Falk said.”

When the CBS reporter asked Falk is there was value in Hines’ artworks, Falk said,

“Yes, it’s well into the millions of dollars, once all is said and done.”

By agreement with the Hines family, most of the art belongs to Jared Whipple.

Starting May 5, the Hollis Taggart Gallery in Southport, CT will exhibit the dumpster treasures; the paintings are likely to sell for over $20,000 apiece:

The exhibition description says, in part:

Unwrapping the Mystery of New York’s Wrapper revives Hines’ work and career, positioning him at the forefront of expressionists experimenting with wrapping, and demonstrating his unique vision to imbue his works with a tension and kineticism reflective of the changing world around him. 

“Hines’ paintings will be presented alongside archival material, including photographs and project drawings.  The exhibition contextualizes his work in the creative output as a groundbreaking style within the New York art scene of the 1960s through the 1980s.”

Sidebar:  You see those words “imbue,” “kineticism” and “contextualizes”?

That’s called “artspeak.”

It’s something I heard a lot of during my employment at the art museum.  Here’s an example:

“The artist uses the craft of painting to navigate through the transient obstacles and challenges towards a unification of concept and practice.”

Back to Jared Whipple and his trash-to-treasure story.

One of Francis Hines’ sons, Jonathan, said:

“I think that it is fate that Jared would discover my father’s work.  It had to be someone from outside the art world.  Had I not decided to throw out the art, none of this would have happened.”

Dad Hines’ treasure was his son’s trash.

And son Hines’ trash is now Whipple’s treasure.  

Some items he’ll keep, and some he’ll sell, but Whipple says it’s not about getting rich from something that was nearly lost to a landfill:

“I pulled it out of this dumpster and I fell in love with it,” Whipple told a news outlet.  “I made a connection with it.  My purpose is to get Hines into the history books.”

Remember what I suggested early on about worthwhile art criteria?

Do you like it?  Love it?  Would you have it in your home?  Not as an investment, but because you connect with it?

Artist Francis Hines’ work was rediscovered by Jared Whipple.

Whipple made a connection with it.

He fell in love with it.

He’ll have it in his home.

And that makes Jared Whipple an…

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