While most people are familiar with Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning, they know very little about their contemporaries. What ever happened to those artists who were highly regarded by their peers but never achieved the same stratospheric levels of fame?
For 40 years, art historian and appraiser Peter Hastings Falk has been on a mission to find these forgotten artists, and in 2012, he launched Rediscovered Masters to more effectively bring them back into the public eye.
“So many incredible artists have slipped through the cracks,” states Falk. “Only about 10 percent of the 2 million artists working today will ever get the representation or recognition they deserve, so we have a watchful eye out for the most imaginative and original of them.”
Called the “Sherlock Holmes of the art world” by his colleague Randy Johnson, Falk pores through old art catalogues and magazines dating back to the 19th century to find forgotten artists such as Leo Jenson (b.1926), a contemporary and friend of Warhol who was influenced by the imagery in the circuses and rodeos of the Great Depression.
When looking at potential artists, Falk considers their relative positions within an artistic movement: “Take someone like Jackson Pollock. He became famous, but who was just below him? Were they a leader or a follower?”
“Most of the artists we’re looking at came off the rails for one reason or another,” tells Falk.
Many of the artists were doing well in their careers until something catastrophic happened – cancer, drug abuse, a death in the family or a psychotic break. Some of the artists became disillusioned with their galleries and the commercial side of art, and became recluses who only created for themselves.
One example is the Italian-born artist Pietro Antonio “Tony” Narducci (1915–1999), an original member of New York’s Abstract Expressionists, who considered Franz Kline and de Kooning among his close friends. After a series of traumatic events, including a dealer who stole many of his works, a divorce, and the death of his young son, Narducci sank into depression, retreated to a village in New Jersey, and became agoraphobic. For the next 30 years, he rarely left his studio, producing more than 3,500 works. Rediscovered Masters’ biggest success story is the Armenian-American Arthur Pinajian (1914-1999), who started off in the 1930s as a comic book illustrator and created a cross-dressing superhero in a series called “Madame Fatal.” Around 1950, he turned to Abstract Expressionism and became something of a hermit in the artist colony of Woodstock, NY. He never had an exhibit or a review of his work, and he remained an undiscovered recluse. Pinajian asked his family to destroy his works upon his death; fortunately, they never got around to it.
“We’re much more than just a gallery though,” explains Falk. “We’re bucking the traditional art museum-gallery connection, and education is a huge part of what we do. We’re getting people to think outside the box when it comes to art.”
Peter Falk has had a distinguished career in the art world and is one of the country’s leading experts on American art. He penned the biographical dictionary, “Who Was Who in American Art,” as well as the largest index of all art sold at auction, “Art Price Index International.”
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