In unpublished drawings, Robert Colescott satirizes the history of art

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Robert Colescott, “ROBERT’S complete HiSTORY of WORLD ART: from the pyramids in Egypt to the modern era” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo)

LOS ANGELES – “I kind of destroyed the abstract painting and put it back together,” said the late artist Robert Colescott. Perhaps that is a bit of an understatement. Colescott not only “sort of” destroyed the painting, he blew up all the vanity of art history itself – and by piecing it together with his sense of satire, he revealed flaws. in the way art history tells its own story. This is the subject of Colescott’s unpublished series of works on paper. ROBERT’S COMPLETE STORY OF WORLD ART, now showing for the first time at Blum & Poe.

Robert Colescott, installation view (2021), Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy of the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo, photo by Dan Finlayson)
Robert Colescott, “art history 3: ROME” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York courtesy of The Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo)

The way Colescott chooses to start says it all: at the start of the series, four plump, plump women dressed in thigh highs and garters, each holding a cigarette between her fingers. While each is meant to represent a historical period of ancient art, you would hardly know it at first glance. Rome, for example, is personified by a woman with spread legs, puffs of cigarette smoke wrapped around her as if it were a feather boa. It is only after looking at the contortions of his body entwined in the smoke that he recalls the famous Roman sculpture “Laocoon and his sons.Likewise, Islam is represented by a black woman with a tuft of pubic hair protruding from her dirty attire. The only indication that it is supposed to represent Islam is its veil, and perhaps the arabesque clouds of smoke which descend in loops around the figure. The false modesty of the veil mocks, if not outright mockery, the caution surrounding nudity and the depiction of the figure in the traditions of Islamic art.

Robert Colescott, “art history 4: Islam” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York courtesy of The Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo)

Throughout the series, Colescott does more than just insert his own version of the historical isms of art. It takes the desire to see itself reflected in art history and, distrusting that instinct, challenges the viewer’s idea of ​​how things should look, confusing notions of decorum, race, of beauty and art. Rather than offering a single message of celebration or criticism, the drawings deny easy reading. Despite the fact that the body of work represents nothing less than the grandiose attempt to critique the whole of art history, he never loses sight of the ridiculousness of it all.

Robert Colescott, “art history 16: AMERICAN ART” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 22 1/8 x 29 3/4 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy of The Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo)
Robert Colescott, “art history 18: BLACK ART” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York courtesy of The Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo)
Robert Colescott, “art history 19: CONCEPTUAL” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 30 x 22 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo)

Robert Colescott: two drawing candies continues by appointment at Blum & Poe (2727 South La Cienega Boulevard, Culver City) until March 6.

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