White Columns

White Room Ben Morea

'Paintings from the early 1990s'

White Columns is pleased to present a second exhibition of historical works by Ben Morea. The exhibition consists of spray-painted works on paper produced between 1990 and 1992, made after Morea’s 25-year self- imposed exile from both the art world and art making.

In 2016, White Columns presented a widely acclaimed exhibition of Morea’s surviving ‘Modern Primitive’ abstract paintings produced between 1964 and 1965 (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.”)

Morea's approach to art in the early 1960s was informed by Aldo Tambellini (who he describes as a ‘mentor’), the Abstract Expressionists, the 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 respected the Abstract Expressionists, but I really hated Pop Art. ... I later quit painting, partially out of disgust with that whole world.”

Shortly after he abandoned art-making Morea founded, with poet Dan Georgakas, 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.”

After a two decade exile from the art world Morea returned to art making around 1990. Using only spray paint and paper, between 1990 and 1992 Morea made dozens of works that were informed by his persistent interest in the Russian Suprematists and the Italian Futurists. Using stencils and other forms of masking, alongside free-drawing Morea’s spray-painted works of the early 1990s share formal characteristics with the work of artists as different as John Latham, Martin BarreĢ, and Christopher Wool whilst amplifying the counter-cultural impulses that have long driven his art, writing and political work. On the occasion of a 2015 exhibition of his spray-painted works it was suggested that Morea’s return to art was:

... inspired by the spiritual as much as intellectual. Picking up where he left off in the mid-‘60’s Morea utilized spray paint as his primary medium to make a series of works on paper that he considers a rebirth and a continuation of his artistic explorations. The work asks the viewer to consider that there are no conclusions artistically or philosophically, but rather [only] a series of loose answers to immediacy.”

In addition to the 2016 White Columns exhibition, 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’ (Boo- Hooray/Envoy, 33 Orchard Street, 2015); and ‘Unseen 50 Years, Paintings By Ben Morea 1964-65’ (Boo- Hooray, 2014). To learn more about these projects and Boo-Hooray’s archival 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); and his work was included in the groundbreaking survey exhibition ‘Inventing Downtown’ at the Grey Art Gallery, New York (2017). 

We would like to thank Ben Morea for his enthusiasm about this exhibition; and acknowledge Johan Kugelberg’s pioneering and ongoing support of Ben Morea’s art, archives and ideas. 

For further information about this exhibition contact: info@whitecolumns.org 


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