Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Note on Jim Love: From Now On 
Jim Love: From Now On
This big book is a retrospective of the work of sculptor Jim Love. Love (1927-2005) was one of Houston's first modern artists, and his biography is a major part of the art history of Houston. This is a subject that interests me greatly (as regular readers know). In the sixties, Mad Magazine published a piece called something like "Incredibly Short Books." The titles were along the lines of "The Humility of Mohammed Ali" and "Great Military Victories of the Italian Army." On the face of it, "The Art History of Houston" would be such a book.

But I am fascinated with this history, largely because I'm here and can witness it happening. But also, because I like seeing how art history unfolds in "provincial" locations, outside the art capitals. And what is interesting about looking at art in these places is to see how it evolved in its own unique way (always, though, in a kind of dialogue with the art capitals). That's why I am fascinated with the history of the Ferus Gallery and the evolution of art in L.A. during the sixties. I am very interested in Soviet non-comformist art for the same reason. (I also happen to like the art of both places quite a lot.) I'm not suggesting Houston artists have achieved what the L.A. artists of the 60s or the non-conformist artists did, but the story of Houston's art is still interesting.

Love was one of the earliest modern artists in Houston. Love went to Baylor and fell in with the theater crowd. He started building theater sets, and eventually met Jermayne MacAgy. She hired him to be a "museum technician" at the nascent Contemporary Arts Museum in 1956. (MacAgy is a key figure in the history of art in Houston. She was hired to come to Houston by the great catalyst of art in Houston, Dominique De Menil.) It was only after he started working in the museum that Love started making art by welding bits of junk together. That was, more or less, his career until he died.

He was lumped in with the assemblagists early on, but his art isn't like Rauschenberg or Kienholz. The artist he most resembles is H.C. Westermann (from another "provincial" art city, Chicago). But Love was a lesser artist. There aren't great depths in his work, nor was he as formally inventive as his peers in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles. His work has a kind of sweet childlike quality, reflected in his subject matter--flowers, jacks, teddy bears.

As a Rice student, I saw his sculpture "Paul Bunyan Bouquet #2" on campus often (it was, and as far as I know still is, in the Lovett College courtyard). I always thought it was kind of ridiculous. I've mellowed towards it as I've gotten older. I can enjoy the charms of Love's work now. His work is visible all over Houston. (I'll try to take photos of some of the public work, and add their locations to my art map.)

This book has great photos of most of Love's work. The essays and timeline that accompany the photos give you a good idea of where Love came from and his place in the local scene. The Mel Chin piece is an especially interesting tribute.

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