I would never write my own obituary. I'm far too superstitious. What if Fate misunderstood my "joke"? But Adrian Dannatt does that at the end of his wonderful new book -- Doomed and Famous. It is a collection of epitaphs that he has written for all kinds of eccentric and curious characters from the Arts of New York and Europe. The book is published by Sequence Press in collaboration with Miguel Abreu Gallery. The lives of the famous and exceptional are further honored by an exhibition in the gallery of pieces from Dannatt's personal collection.
Each object has an hard to imagine resonance for the collector so the best way to see this show is by calling the gallery and booking the curator/author to guide you around it.
You will experience the colourful nature both of Dannatt's persona and his take on art and literature in general. In English clothes and swept back hair, throwing out anecdotes and rapid fire digressions, he will explain how each of the artists lives and eccentric habits affected him as he jumps polyvalently across the room from one piece to another.
Everything is evinced by his study of idiosyncratic behavior. Don't worry though, both in the show and in the book he allows us to enjoy these nutters, geniuses, trust fund layabouts, and free thinkers for what they are, without worrying too much about the consequences of any of their actions
The whole show looks like an estate sale. Some pieces, magazines, posters, and poetry books are in cases along the wall to one side and in the centre of the space. One wall is filled with art sometimes five tiers high.
In this group there are some intimate wriggly Matt Mullicans and Derek Boshier paintings on paper.
Nearby is a gorge Nancy Spero silk print text piece, "Torture in Chile" (1975). Words scumbled and rubbed into the surface with a grungy tactility.
Abreu’s gallery has great light.
Either from the shop front window that catches the sun in the morning to the skylights at the back that flood that space. Here are two works by lesser known British pop artists. A Bob Stanley Beatles painting that looks just like a screen print. Even though at first glance it looks like a commercial product. Stanley had a wavering, explorative line that pushed away from the impersonal look of Pop. There's a glorious Richard Smith called "Slices" from 1964. It's a king-sized extrapolation through space of a cigarette packet design.
In the vitrines are typical examples of the kind of characters that Dannatt loves. Many of them British, perhaps because becoming a "character" is a way of dealing with the class system. It allows you to jump out of the standard classifications that the islanders impose on each other.
One way to stand apart as a creative, is to set yourself an impossible task, like Cornelius Cardew represented here by a tract called "Stockhausen Saves Imperialism." A composer devoted to making radically theoretical work that he thought would be embraced by the working classes even though it was very hard to listen to.
Throughout the space there are portraits of our host. By Duncan Hannah, Ena Swansea, and Walter Robinson. The Robinson is based on a Courbet portrait which seems to capture our host in mid-flow.
In another case is book of prose by surrealist Dorothea Tanning, dedicated him:
"talking about everyone and everything and nothing (meaning me)."
My favorite area is downstairs in the gallery basement. Here everything is hugger mugger. A great Marisol lithograph, a divine Salvator Rosa drawing, even a bold physical etching by Allan Jones that is unlike the more slick work he is known for.
Is Adrian Selling up his stuff and writing himself off? That would be a shame, his role in the Art World has always been about personal connections. The old Art World where people met at openings and gossiped, praised and kvetched. But perhaps the idea is to preserve his own persona in our mind, at its point of perfection by play acting the death of its creator.
Rather as the murderer does in Robert Browning's poem "Porphyria's Lover." Where the lunatic beau kills his beloved at the apex of her beauty seemingly (to the narrator) with her permission.
"And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word"
But more chronistically, this show speaks to our situation. Our distanced relationships. Cut off from our friends, seeing art infrequently, if at all. Dannatt can't have you round his house but this is the next best thing. - Millree Hughes
Miguel Abreu Gallery, Winter Hours: