White Room: Ben MoreaSeptember 10–October 22, 2016
White Columns is pleased to present an exhibition of Ben Morea’s surviving abstract paintings made between 1964 and 1965 (and prior to his co-founding of the now legendary collectives Black Mask and Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers, the latter group once described as a “street gang with analysis.”) The exhibition has been developed in collaboration with the artist, Johan Kugelberg and Boo-Hooray.
Morea's approach to art was informed by Aldo Tambellini (who he describes as a ‘mentor’), the Abstract Expressionists, Russian Suprematists, ancient art, and spiritual and mythological writers such as Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. Morea eventually abandoned art-making, turning his back on the visual art world by 1966. Writing about this time, Morea has stated: “I made these paintings between 1964 and 1965. … I respected the Abstract Expressionists, but I really hated Pop Art. … I later quit painting, partially out of disgust with that whole world.”
At White Columns, Morea will present five works on canvas (the only surviving paintings from this era) and a single work on paper. The three large-format black and white paintings are from the ‘Machine Primitive’ series about which Morea has stated:
“The title came from the feeling that we had moved into a post-industrial world. But … I was looking for a link to the primitive. In other words, I saw them as not disjointed. I was reading some Jung and Joseph Campbell. I was trying to understand what people call the ‘primitive world’. I wanted to know why I felt it was in some way superior to what we now have. I don’t like the term ‘primitive’, but to me it’s a way of connoting the pre-industrialized people. ‘Primitive’ has a negative connotation, which I don’t like, but I just used the term in a generic sense meaning: ‘culture before commodification.’”
Two circular paintings ‘Red Eclipse’ and ‘Fire-Bird’ were influenced by Constructivism and Futurism. About ‘Red Eclipse’, Morea has stated: “Malevich was my biggest influence then. This is definitely straight from Malevich and Rodchenko. … My use of eclipse imagery probably first developed around this time. … There was a book by D’Arcy Thompson ‘On Growth And Form’, which both Aldo and I found crucial. It said that everything in nature grows round. … There’s nothing in nature that’s a straight line.” ‘Fire-Bird’ was the only painting from this group by Morea to be exhibited between 1964 – 1965.
Shortly after these works were made, Morea abandoned art-making and with poet Dan Georgakas founded the group Black Mask, publishing a broadside that declared that art should be "an integral part of life, as in primitive society, and not an appendage to wealth." In May 1968, Black Mask evolved into Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers, an activist group that shaped New York’s counter culture of the late 1960s and who were characterized by Abbie Hoffman as “The middle-class nightmare … an anti-media media phenomenon.”
Ben Morea’s archives and artwork have recently been the subject of a series of research-driven publications and exhibitions curated by archivist Johan Kugelberg for his Boo-Hooray space and imprint, including: the exhibition and publication ‘Opposition: Black Mask, Ben Morea, and U.A.W.M.F’ (Boo-Hooray, 2014); ‘The Line Between: Ben Morea Paintings of the Early 90’s’ (33 Orchard Street, 2015); and ‘Unseen 50 Years, paintings By Ben Morea 1964-65’ (Boo-Hooray, 2014). To learn more about these project and Boo-Hooray’s arcival projects visit: www.boo-hooray.com. Morea’s ‘Modern Primitive’ paintings were included in the exhibition ‘All Summer In A Day’ (Unclebrother, Hancock, New York, 2016).
White Columns would like to thank Ben Morea and Johan Kugelberg for their enthusiasm and support on this project, and we would like to thank the lenders to the exhibition for their generosity.