Philip Van Aver:
Paintings, Drawings and Miniatures,
1978 – 2021

March 14–April 29, 2023

Press Release

White Columns is pleased to present Paintings, Drawings and Miniatures, 1978 – 2021, a survey of works by the New York-based artist Philip Van Aver (b. 1939.) The exhibition has been organized by the artist Jack Pierson, a long-time supporter of Van Aver’s work, in collaboration with White Columns, and includes more than forty individual works and a vitrine featuring printed ephemera, documentation of earlier works, and research materials drawn from the artist’s extensive archives. The exhibition is the most comprehensive presentation of Van Aver’s work since his 2009 exhibition at D’Amelio Terras, New York.

Philip Van Aver began his career in the early 1960s when he was part of San Francisco’s artistic and literary milieu. He had his first solo exhibition at the William Sabersky Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962. For over six decades he has worked almost exclusively on his signature small-format gouache and ink paintings on paper. The press release for his 2009 exhibition at D’Amelio Terras succinctly described his approach: “Van Aver creates detailed images of Baroque figures, decorative objects, flowers and plants enclosed in vibrant, coloristic borders. The compositions borrow formal ideas of recurring figures and spatial relations from Surrealism yet there is no attempt to depict light or depth. Pure perspective and real objects are drawn together in a straight-forward harmony which Van Aver says is influenced by the direct imagery of traditional folk music, but like The Child Ballads there is often an evocative undertone of menace or violence.”

A long-time collector of vintage postcards and toys, Van Aver’s aligned interests in the vernacular and the art historical result in images of often astounding visual and referential density. About his work Van Aver has said: “Ever since I was a child I have been drawn to small-scale objects and miniatures. Because I have always had this preoccupation, at some point I decided to incorporate this obsession into my artwork. Since Surrealism and other modern art movements tend to elevate the obsessional, I do not avoid this compulsion. Though I utilize traditional landscape, still life and figurative subjects, I inject these preoccupations into my depictions. In an attempt to create a fusion of visual ideas relevant to the subject matter, I am employing elements derived from classical antiquity, postcards, many kinds of decorative art, fashion and botanical prints, the movies of Luchino Visconti, old engravings and erotic material.”

Van Aver has long been involved in community organizing on the Lower East Side, where he has lived in the same apartment since 1969. (Prior to this he lived in an apartment on Horatio Street, a short walk from White Columns’ present location.) Imagery drawn from New York City’s queer histories are integrated into his compositions: many of his “models” were culled from the ads section of HX magazine, a now-defunct publication that circulated in the city’s gay bars throughout the 1990s and early aughts. The changing landscape of the city itself provides a broader context for the images of ruins that recur throughout his work, scenes in which desire and decay coalesce: for example, Love in the Ruins, 2015, inserts a portrait image of a young man drawn from a massage parlor advertisement into a scene of crumbling buildings framed by ornately-carved stone. The resulting image – like much of Van Aver’s work – is at once wistful, tender, and melancholic.



Philip Van Aver’s work has been held in the collections of the San Diego Museum of Modern Art; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others. As an illustrator his work has appeared in many publications including New York Magazine, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times. Most recently, his work was included in the 2022 group exhibition Catechism at Bridget Donahue, New York, NY, and his work was the subject of a solo exhibition at D’Amelio Terras, New York, in 2009. In 2019 Artforum published a portfolio of Van Aver’s work accompanied by a text by Alex Jovanovich. He has been an active member of the Coalition for District Alternative (CoDA); the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative; and the Metropolitan Postcard Collectors Club.


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Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am to 6pm.

Philip Van Aver, Garden Scene with Statue of Sleeping Ariadne, 1978, gouache and ink on paper, 7 ⅝ × 10 ¼ in. Courtesy of Bridget Donahue, NYC.