Arguments Worth Having

Art = Absurdity = Provocation = Contemplation = Wisdom = Love

Chimpanzee or not Chimpanzee?

with 2 comments

Picasso’s “lyrical abstract impressionist” Congo

Here’s the question:  Who painted what? Chimp or human?

The Humane Society caretakers have judiciously prepared their apes for a competition, and the six finalists have been announced:  Jamie, Jenny, Cheetah, Brent, Ripley, and Patti. Their work is displayed along with “Picasso’s Chimp,”  Congo, whose work Picasso hung in his studio.

These seven primates shall battle seven of the finest abstract expressionists of our modern times.

The Seven:  Willem de Kooning,  Friedel Dzubas, Helen Frankenthaler, Franz Kline, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, and Peter Upward.

But first, a few words:

1.  This has been done before!  Painter spoofs, with paintings stuck side by side with children’s art or elephant dung or paint spillage, are not original. Why do it, then? ‘Cause it’s fun.

2.  A chimpanzee can’t paint without human help.  True. A chimp cannot construct material, brushes, or dyes, not to mention guidance.

3.  Chimps don’t have to compete in the ugly world of galleries and critics. Everyone loves chimps. Yes, we’re biased, we root for chimps.

4.  Human appreciation:  The trained artist, critic, student has an advantage. They see technique apes cannot replicate with their clumsy opposing thumbs lacking human dexterity.

It should be an unfair competition, right? Click on any picture to find out who painted what.

(Artist bios taken from Wiki or Wiki-like pages.)

Willem de Kooning:  (April 24, 1904 – March 19, 1997) Dutch American abstract expressionist artist, born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. His style Abstract expressionism or Action painting, and he was part artist group known as the New York School. Others included Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner, Kline, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Motherwell, and Clyfford Still. In 2011 de Kooning’s work was honored with a retrospective exhibition at MoMA.

Friedel Dzubas: (April 20, 1915 – 1994) German-born American abstract painter, studied art before fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 to New York City. In Manhattan shared a studio with Helen Frankenthaler, began exhibiting his Abstract expressionist paintings, included in the Ninth Street Show in New York City in 1951, and in group exhibitions at the Leo Castelli gallery, the Stable Gallery, and the Tibor de Nagy Gallery among others.

Franz Kline:  (May 23, 1910 – May 13, 1962) with other Abstract Expressionists, such as de Kooning and Rothko, Kline sought to maintain a stylistic development, including works from 1959 to 1961 known as the ‘wall paintings’, that echo the monumentality of later paintings by Clyfford Still or Robert Motherwell. He introduced a full range of colour, black-and-white paintings retained traces of sombre hues, Kline’s strident palette he had largely eschewed since the later 1940s. His influence on the second generation of gestural painters was substantial, and his works comprise some of the most imposing achievements of Abstract Expressionism.

Helen Frankenthaler: (December 12, 1928 – December 27, 2011) Frankenthaler began exhibiting large-scale abstract expressionist paintings in museums and galleries in the 1950s. She was included in the 1964 Post-Painterly Abstraction exhibition curated by Clement Greenberg that introduced painting that came to be known as Color Field. She was influenced by Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and by Greenberg. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 2001, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts. More on Frankenthaler here.

Joan Mitchell: (February 12, 1925 – October 30, 1992) a “second generation” abstract expressionist painter, printmaker and member of the American Abstract expressionist movement. Along with Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, and Helen Frankenthaler, she was one of her era’s few female painters to gain critical and public acclaim. Her paintings and editioned prints can be seen in major museums and collections across America and Europe.

“A passionate inner vision guided Joan’s brush. Like her peer Cy Twombly, she extended the vocabulary of her Abstract Expressionist forebears. She imbued their painterliness with a compositional and chromatic bravery that defiantly alarms us into grasping their beauty.” – Klaus Kertess wrote in the New York Times

Robert Motherwell:  (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991 )With the advent of Pop Art, the art public began to long for the idealism of the Abstract Expressionists. In relation to Andy Warhol’s soup cans, Motherwell’s large abstract paintings achieved a majesty in the public eye. Motherwell’s politics and spirituality were welcome reminders of a time when one could make art that did not engage the cynicism of a post-modern era. Motherwell committed himself to producing highly experimental work of emotional depth for the rest of his life. He died at the age of 76: the last of the great Abstract Expressionists. From the 1949 painting, AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON, until the end of his life, Motherwell continued his search for a personal and political voice in abstraction. This search produced a body of work that remains a testament to the human soul and its persistence, and to the genre of abstract painting out of which it came.

Peter Upward: (Born in Melbourne, Australia 1932 – 1983) IN the early 1960s Australia was in the grip of an art war between the abstract and figurative artists.The figurative artists formed a Melbourne-based group, the Antipodeans, strongly critical of abstraction. In the Antipodeans’ manifesto, abstraction was described as “not an art sufficient for our time . . . not an art for living men”.  The abstractionists reponded to this animosity by forming a group called Sydney 9. It included John Olsen, Peter Upward, Leonard Hessing, Clement Meadmore and Stanislaus Rapotec. Sydney 9 first exhibited in Sydney and then in Melbourne, where, in a ploy to get media attention and annoy the Antipodeans, three of the group arrived at the exhibition’s opening in a helicopter, brandishing their paintings.


Written by Caleb Powell

September 6, 2013 at 8:25 am

2 Responses

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  1. Thumbs down on all of it, human or Chimpanzee. I don’t like any of the above “paintings?”

    Merle Segault

    September 6, 2013 at 9:56 am

    • So the question is, why do you need to belittle them? They aren’t for everyone’s taste, but enough people do like them that there is significance.


      August 8, 2016 at 10:16 am

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