Who Gets On The Front Cover?

Study for “Mother/Son”, 1984, Ink on Artforum magazine cover. (March 1977), 10.5″ x 10.5″, photo courtesy of the artist

Enter Thompson Giroux Gallery in Chatham NY and come face to face with what we as artists, curators, critics, gallerists and historians consciously and subconsciously know; we are missing greats. Arthur González’s exhibition, Ego Diaries confronts the art world and those who control the keys to the kingdom and anoint who is recognized and who is not.

As a young, talented artist, living in the lower east side of New York in the heyday of the 80’s with a wheel house chock full of skill and technique he posed the question, “How do you get on the front cover?”. This was in reference to glossy, trendsetting art publications such as Artforum, and Art in America. He studiously subscribed and read the often esoteric articles searching for clues. While he pursued this quixotic quest for answers he began creating a new body of work by using the front covers as a sketchbook and as a support instead of canvas or paper. These works also became the inspiration for sculptures, ceramic reliefs and paintings. González maintained this practice for decades culminating in an extraordinary body of work that is both biographical and a window into a conceptual creative process of one artist’s work manifested by an optimism that refused to devolve into bitter recrimination.

32 works created on magazine covers plus pieces inspired by this process are elegantly installed in a single line, one right after another along the walls of Thompson Giroux Gallery. This installation motivates viewers to examine each cover as a discreet and unique work of art. One of the earliest drawings, Study for Mother/Son on a March 1977 Artforum cover, is a tenderly executed sketch of a mother who appears to be bathing her son.This is rendered over a Richard Diebenkorn cover in black ink.The mother has an ever so slight smile cupping the crown of her son’s head, while the body of the son is depicted bending in total submission while squinting his eyes. González uses the color from the Diebenkorn painting as a frame and also as a vehicle that creates a sense of a room and space.

Study for “My Two-Headed Conscience”, 2016, Acrylic paint on Artforum magazine cover. (April 2016), 10.5″ x 10.5″, photo courtesy of the artist

Study for My Two-Headed Conscience, painted in white acrylic on the almost completely black Monica Baer Artforum cover April 2016 depicts the angst of the incongruity we all encounter when realizing the inequity of a system is not balanced in our favor. A washy bleached multi-headed figure rises out of a stack of books, with an arm raised simulating a power fist in the air. The heads are drawn with raised hair, downed turned mouths and simple black eyes portraying the horror or anxiety. What contributes to the content of this image is González had the acumen to leave the text from the publication advertising an article on cultural patrimony. This beautifully exemplifies the oxymoron of an organization taking superficial postures to appear progressive while taking few steps to embrace solutions.

Study for “Turbo-Pancreas”, 2015, Ink on Artnews magazine cover. (October 2015), 11″ x 9″, photo courtesy of the artist

Study for Turbo – Pancreas rendered on the Ed Atkins cover of Artnews, October 2015 is a beautifully conceived collage. Utilizing the space between two Atkins’ cut out black and white photographed hands, González has created an animated pancreas that seems to be vibrating like an engine of a truck, dropped in the middle of the magazine cover’s empty space. The hands from the original cover appear to be attempting to grab or restrain this flamingly angry red, yellow and black pancreas. The text on the cover features an article titled, “Outsider Art Moving In”. The artist has also added his name with the title of his work beneath. González is now placing himself clearly in the same sphere as those highlighted on the cover.

Close by, is a unique monoprint on ceramic titled, Portrait of a Turbo-Pancreas. Obviously the genesis is derived from the drawing on the magazine cover. The piece has a muted green background and similar to the drawing, has a sputtering sanguine red turbo pancreas in the middle. The difference is this highly glazed ceramic print is exquisite. The first thought that comes to mind is a jewel or antique jewelry found centuries ago. The dichotomy between the image and the beauty of the creation only enhances the small work.

Portrait of a Turbo-Pancreas, 2022, unique monoprint on ceramic, 9″ x 12″ x 1″, photo courtesy of the artist

These are only a few examples of this astute body of work that is actualized through savvy draughtsmanship and decades of experience. Much like popular music many artists end up on covers and might be described as one hit wonders. González has the character to never critique the artists on the cover, but as you view his work the thought crosses your mind his covers are in many cases superior. Then, the realization hits, how many other artists were passed over or never given an opportunity?

Arthur González, The Ego Diaries is on view through September 3, 2022 at Thompson Giroux Gallery, 57 Main Street, Chatham, NY. Gallery hours are 11am – 5pm Thursday – Monday.