Art in the South: Art Rosenbaum and Friends
Margo Newmark Rosenbaum
It must have been a year ago, this time, that I first met Art. Upon some mutual friends’ recommendation, he stopped by my gallery which was in Hollywood then. With a miniature library of his own catalogues on hand, Art told me he didn’t want to beat around the bush; that he was looking for someone in Los Angeles to make an exhibition of his paintings. Our meeting was uncanny, because unbeknownst to him I was getting ready to move to the same town in Northeast Georgia that he calls home. Art was one of the first people I looked up when I arrived in town and I’ve felt very fortunate these last months to have him as a docent. It is with great pleasure that I present an exhibition of his work Art in the South: Art Rosenbaum and Friends to inaugurate the opening of my new gallery in Athens, Georgia. The show will include a presentation of ten portraits by Rosenbaum, made over the course of the last thirty years, alongside an artwork of each person depicted in the paintings. The exhibition will open with a reception from 5-7 PM, Saturday June 16th and remain open through August 11th.
In 1976, after having finished a MFA in painting at Columbia University and spending time in Paris on a Fulbright scholarship, Art Rosenbaum and his wife Margo Newmark Rosenbaum -who is also an artist- moved with their son Neil to Athens, Georgia. Art began teaching at The University of Georgia, joining the ranks of an esteemed faculty including painter and filmmaker James Herbert, painter and Vietnam War Veteran Richard Olsen, as well as Bill Paul (who organized a number of interesting exhibitions at the Georgia Museum of Art including, Open to New Ideas: A Collection of New Art for Jimmy Carter in 1976). Art taught painting and drawing courses at UGA for forty years. Artists and former students - who are both recent returnees to Athens by way of New York - Ridley Howard and Samuel Stabler - recall the unconventionally lively atmosphere of Art's classrooms. Art was often the model in his own figure drawing classes, playing banjo, occasionally accompanied by a friend on the fiddle.
Already a committed listener and performer of American Folk music, Art supplemented his activities as an artist and professor by travelling with his family around rural Georgia and elsewhere recording blues, fiddlers, banjo pickers, and ballad singers performing traditional folk songs. The recordings were originally done out of personal interest and for Art’s own learning and it wasn’t until later that he realized their documentary value. Smithsonian Folkways released several of these recordings, including Folk Visions and Voices (1984) and Howard Finster’s Man of Many Voices (1985) which I remember hearing when I was an art student in a distant Los Angeles. Listening to these records will transport you from wherever you happen to be listening from to the front porches and backyards that they were recorded in. In 2008 Art was awarded a Grammy for Best Historical Album for Art of Field Recording: Fifty Years of Traditional American Music. With Art’s list of musical accolades, it’s hard to imagine how he found time to maintain the feverish output of visual art that he has, but a closer look at his portraits especially, reveals the interconnectedness of the two practices.
Art’s paintings are dense, loquacious in a way. Populated by a diverse cast of characters and asynchronous events, they tell the story of Art’s noteworthy life in the south. What for instance, would Art’s wife Margo, Philip Guston, and Mike Seeger all be doing occupying the same picture plane? Ask Art and he’ll gladly recall the time that Philip Guston visited Athens when Elaine de Kooning was the Lamar Dodd Visiting Professor at the Art Department in the seventies and segue into the trip that he and Howard Finster took to visit Mike Seeger on their way to an exhibition in Washington DC that they were both in. Through the process of organizing this exhibition and by looking at his paintings, I’ve been introduced to a number of figures who’ve been formative to the cultural landscape of Athens and this region. Some I’ve already mentioned and others like Dilmus Hall, whose work stems from the tradition of African American yard arts in the South, or Bonnie Loggins whose extensive repertoire of folk songs and ballads Art recorded over the course of a decade (and who is also a self-taught painter).
Having been a professor for so long, Art enjoys giving his own explanations for things as much as he likes to tell the stories that have been elemental to both his artistic and musical achievements. In a 2008 New Yorker article chronicling some of Art's musical recordings, Burkhard Bilger noted “when Rosenbaum talked about folk music, he was sometimes prone to an old professor’s windiness— terms like “vital tradition bearer” kept cropping up." Recently Art and I were taking a drive into the countryside just outside of Athens to visit the self-taught artist Charlie Rakestraw (the son of Joe Rakestraw whose guitar playing, fiddling, and singing were captured on Folk Visions and Voices) and I asked him about a definition for the term folk that I’d read about in a book on the history of Georgia Folk Pottery. The author implied that the application of the term was only relevant to artists and artisans who were part of an unbroken tradition, typically passed down through a family lineage. As a folklorist himself, Art explained that this definition could be one way of looking at things, but that it was really only useful as a starting point for thinking about how culture works or how we talk about it. This simple, yet insightful statement, had me thinking about this exhibition and my own attempts as a newcomer to Athens to try and understand things about this place through the singular lens of one person's experience. There are so many anecdotes and attributes about a place to uncover simply by saying, I’m new here, will you show me around. You might not get the whole story, but you’ll get one version of it. Fully aware of the limitations of a pursuit like this, I feel confident I picked a good place to start.
Art Rosenbaum’s (b. 1938, Ogdensburg, New York) work has been included in the exhibition “More Than Land or Sky: Art from Appalachia” at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art in 1981. The Georgia Museum of Art exhibited his work in a solo exhibition “He Weaves His Art on Golden Looms: Paintings and Drawings by Art Rosenbaum” in 2006 that was accompanied by a catalogue. His work has also been exhibited at the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Corcoran Gallery. Rosenbaum has been awarded a Fulbright in painting along with a Fulbright Professorship. He has published a number of books about traditional folk music in America and released 14 albums of documentary recordings. In 2008 he was awarded a Grammy for Best Historical Album.
In addition to the exhibition at the gallery, visitors are also invited to tour the studios of James Herbert and Bill Paul. Herbert's studio at 350 Meigs Street will be open to the public during the opening reception of the exhibition. Tours to this extensive collection of paintings dating back to the early sixties can also be made by appointment throughout the duration of the exhibition. A tour of Bill Paul's large-scale installation of American Pottery, mainly from the 1920s and the 1930s, will take place prior to the opening on June 16th. The tour is limited in capacity and will begin at 3:00. Please RSVP.