Although this selection of Richard Rappaport's paintings is large; there are many important works, especially those from sub-branches in the artist's evolution, that could not be accommodated in this presentation without some risk of visual overload. Still, it is our hope that this overview of Rappaport's fifty years of mature painting can allow the general viewer to grasp the artist's oeuvre as an integral whole in spite of its range and understand his contribution to figurative painting, especially expressive figurative painting, when painting itself, seen from the polemics of late-modernist criticism of the mid-sixties through most of the seventies, unless observing the required hypothetical distance from subjectivity, was deemed "retrograde" and censured for irrelevance by critical theory as then advanced by such empowered advocates as Michael Fried and Rosalind E. Krauss at Artforum.
The cultural milieau of that period was exclusionary to the extreme. Its rhetoric - "hyperbole" and "overreach[ing] in its claims", demanded absolute adherence to its prevailing view of "progressive culture" as seen in an "Hegelian-Marxist 'conception of historical progression.' "1 However, this concept precludes the question of transcendence of the contemporary moment for something universal expressing what is at the core of the human condition and which remains meaningful once what is soley contemporary passes into history.2
This will come about because aesthetic values integral to the traditional experience of art will be downgraded in this "dialectic of modernism" for which Robert Pincus-Witten laments: "The derision of the arts of the hand - as distinct from those of the lens - went far in scuttling our deepest, most primary notion of art as an encounter with beauty."3 As such this prosecution will enforce the single most revolutionary turn-about in society's view of art since the Protestant Reformation's prohibition of iconography during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Consequently, Rappaport, facing such ostracism, had no choice but to take the long view.4 That success needed to be measured more broadly against the background of the ages.
In a widely based stylistic development that over time finds formal coherence as a body of work, a progression of influences from cave painting to Giotto to late Rembrandt to nineteen-thirties Picasso, to mention only the most important, converge in sacramental imagery made expressive and compassionate. It is that emotional charge where the absolute force of the human figure residing in its own imaginative dimension carries the weight of meaning, making Rappaport's painting an evocation of the essential humanism and concept of the heroic individual celebrated in the classical/romantic tradition.
The figure central to the allegories painted is the artist himself, by which these works become collectively an autobiographical performance through which the artist assigns himself the role of "the Other". Already in freshman year at Carnegie Tech, (now Carnegie Mellon University), Warhol & Company's ascendency is overtaking the foreseeable future when this artist chooses his part. It will be the reverse of what is shocking to an audience now accustomed to being shocked. What outrages those in the know when he paints Burial of Christ in 1964 and thereafter is his total disregard for the agenda of the avant-garde.
This place of alienation has many names, but the artist doesn't read Foucault's Madness & Civilization in 1965 when painting Six Characters in Search and Jewess Accused or in 1966 for Ship of Fools or in 1970 with Joseph Accused or in 1994 as The Performer to know that one is "a stranger in a strange land". The images of Bosch's Ship of Fools and Bruegel's Blind Leading the Blind suffice to understand that one is consigned like refugee or cripple or criminal to the shadows.
1, Hal Foster, "Critical Condition",* 'Artforum', September 2012, 147-148, *see below
2, Leland de La Durantaye, "Lost in Thought" on Peter Osborne's "Anywhere Or Not At All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art", Artforum, October 2013, 83-84. *see below
3, Robert Pincus-Witten, "Artificial Paradises",* 'Artforum', September 2012, 217-218
4, "Pintura nos Estados Unidos", 6.3 'Neo-expressionismo e Hiper-Realismo': "Philip Guston, Richard Rappaport e Chaim Goldberg sao bons exemplos da persistencia da pintura figurativa expressiva durante sua fase de ostracismo e de sua recuperacao em meados dos anos 1970." http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pintura_nos_Estados_Unidos
While one agrees with the first part of the statement: "the persistence of expressive figurative painting during its phase of ostracism", here translated from the Portuguese, and which is substantiated in the above articles by Messrs. Foster and Pincus-Witten; "its recuperation in the mid-1970s" is to this day of limited pardon and scope, and when allowed, as with the rise of Neo-expressionism, is driven by a predetermined model from the dominant Duchampian/Warholian culture of "nothing- art least of all- is important, but that all of it can be fun"* - the ideology of N'importe quoi!,5 whose hold on the contemporary period continues despite the general malaise brought about by the exhaustion of the neo-avant-garde and postmodernism paradigms as addressed in Hal Foster's 2009 "Questionnaire on 'The Contemporary'",6 and echoed emblematically in painting by Mel Bochner's celebrated Clarion Call: "Blah, Blah, Blah".
5, Thierry de Duve, "Pardon My French", 'Artforum', October 2013, 246-53, *quote from John Canaday reviewing Duchamp's retrospective at the Cordier & Ekstrom Gallery in 1965: John Canaday, "Leonardo Duchamp." 'New York Times', January 17, 1965, X19.
6, Hal Foster, "Questionnaire on 'The Contemporary,'" 'October', no.130 (Fall 2009):3.
1 and 3, *These references by the distinguished art historian-critics and on-the-scene-insider-observers Hal Foster and Robert Pincus-Witten are published in the 'Fiftieth Anniversary Issue' of Artforum, September 2012. And though these articles are modest in size, constitute major appraisals of the basic assumptions and precepts dictated by late-modernist criticism initiated under the editorship of Philip Leider in the early years of Artforum beginning in the mid-sixties and, branching off with the publication of October, continuing well into the seventies and beyond.
Foster, speaking with reservation for the ideal in what was lost when the concept of art and criticism serving "as indices of historical change" was junked, offers this critique of its program: "We can call it what we like - naive, parochial, chimerical- and we can dismiss it as a petty expression of a will to power whereby art history is read forward into contemporary practice in such a way that an elect few are scripted in and everyone else is dropped out.".
2, * Leland de La Durantaye concludes his review with: "Reflecting on contemporary art in 1828, Hegel wrote that 'art...in its highest vocation, is...for us a thing of the past.' He meant by this... that it has ceased to shape the way that people saw themselves and experienced their world; he meant that there was a crisis that it was up to philosophy to formulate... to see that the highest vocation for contemporary art, like the writing that would illuminate it, is that it be, for us, a thing of the present." But one might respond that regardless of what is superimposed by the broad spectacle of 'The Contemporary' - its superficial and arbitrary styles of compliance; in art as in life, our most heightened state of awareness comes privately as revelatory moments of hitherto neglected or unexpected beauty. And while illumination of present-state consciousness may happen with other art forms; the art that most reflects our enduring universal condition and shares immediacy with the beholder is the art of the human figure and face - where the pictorial literalness in its representation attains a greater presence and intimacy when in the material act in its painting, the concrete reality of paint and mark maintains a distinct identity while guided by direct and compassionate observation. It is in that zone of immediacy where we enter the present.