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Monday, May 30, 2011
He was born and brought up in the Bronx where his propensity for art and daydreaming was apparent at an early age.
He attended the School of Visual Arts, majoring in illustration and fine art. Upon graduation, he painted during the day and loaded tractor trailers for UPS at night until he was drafted into the Army. He served from 1964 through 1966 as a radio operator in Bamburg, Germany, and unofficially, as the unit sign painter. Upon discharge, he moved to a loft on the Bowery and resumed painting. He was a founding member of the Rhino Horn Group of humanistic painters in the early 70s. He also began his 30-year career at the Metropolitan Opera from which he retired in 1997 as chief usher.
In 1979, he and his wife, Ellen moved from New York to Jersey City and in 2003, he retired full time to Denver, NY where he had been a part-time resident since 1986.
Throughout his life, Michael had an interest in both art and architecture. His work was exhibited in New York City, the Catskills, New Orleans, Jersey City and Medillin, Columbia. Primarily a painter, he also did sculpture and etchings. He drew his inspiration from the environments in which he lived. He restored an 1850s Federal-style townhouse in Jersey City and designed and built a house and out buildings in the Catskills. His buildings and cabinet work were influenced by the Shakers, Greene and Greene and Asian architectural styles filtered through his unique vision. He had a wide range of interests, a New York sense of humor and a willingness to help others.Michael is survived by his wife of 41 years, Ellen (Kiernan); his mother, Agnes (Curnyn) of Riverdale; his sister, Susan Downes and husband, James, of Pound Ridge; brother, Kenneth and wife, Ellen Weider, of Manhattan; 12 nieces and nephews; 14 grand nieces and nephews and many friends"
Monday, May 24, 2010
The Original Manifesto of Rhino Horn:
"Our art is involved with life; it is concerned with humanity, with emotion. We will not listen to explanations from or about the technically minded artist of yesterday. Just as abstract expressionism - the art of the fifties - was superseded by pop, op, hard edge, minimal and color field the art of the sixties - so now a new art, a humanistic art, will characterize the seventies. Our art owes little to what many aestheticians refer to as 11 the important technical revolution" in art. We are not concerned with making pure color or pure form the subject of the painting; we are concerned with, and express, a harsher reality - harsher, that is, than the cotton-candy world that advertising men would have all of us believe we live in. Nor does our work allow a pleasant, self-indulgent escape; for it is a product of our awareness of the state of the world we do live in. We have ignored the dictates of Madison Avenue businessmen, be they copywriters or gallery dealers, and our work has nothing to do with current aesthetics; it exists without the permission of the nail-polished artists who swish over reality. Madison Avenue has sold what is called "the art of the United States" with fantastic success, paralleled only by the success they've had in making Coca-Cola an international "buyword." Yet the current-day altarpieces won't communicate to people living beyond the fringe of stainless steel. Realize when you see our work that the so-called "thirty years of painting and sculpture" in this country has been built on a lie; it has been packaged, promoted and super-sold by ambitious critics, dealers and curators trying to build their own reputation I as they fatten their bankrolls. You are masochists, Mr. and Mrs. America, masochists or fools. Don't you see that spray-gun art insults your intelligence? Don't you see that it's a product aimed in its inoffensive decorativeness at cardboard people who live non-thinking existences? And this doesn't INSULT you? Or perhaps we overestimate you. Perhaps you are very cozy in your consumer passivity, happy only when spoon-fed or dictated to.
Some say we are too coarse for the temperament of today. These same hypocrites sit smugly in front of the daily newscasts of Vietnam. Or say our art is "hard to take." We say to hell with you! Our art won't be accepted by those who prefer a dream-world kubla-khan to an encounter with people and emotion. And yes, our art is coarse - by current aesthetic standards, that is. But is it not odd that in this age of deep and growing concern with the horrors we perpetrate on ourselves and export to other countries, in this time of political activism, that the art you laud is completely divorced from humanity and concern? Has it ever occurred to you that this art is anti-life?
Our work is strong and demanding - of all of your faculties. It has integrity in all senses of the word. We don't hand graph paper designs over to engineers and contractors to be executed; we don't give you fluorescent lights, red yellow blue, white on white, or the straightest lines in the world. We have enormous visual appetites and are as interested in the baroque and classical forms of fine art as in the novelties of 42nd Street; moreover, we are able to assimilate such opposites into a whole. The mediums we use also are culled from all sources. We don't totally ignore the new materials discovered by the artists we reject as technicians - the difference is that we incorporate these materials into a total vision of today's society instead of saying these materials themselves represent society. The struggle, the art, is to unite material with image. That technically oriented people are earnestly trying to communicate on a human level through technology is bizarre. Our exhibition is a step in a new direction. The show we have assembled is concerned with the human image. The message is not the medium. We are interested in man. The paintings and sculptures are involved with the world of knowing and feeling and questioning man; our art interprets and respects the viewer - not his products, not his technology. If the mirror we hold is too revealing, the image too harsh, the fault, dear Brutus, lies in yourself."
“Our art is involved with life; it is concerned with humanity, with emotion. We will not listen to explanations from or about the technically minded artist of yesterday. Just as abstract expressionism - the art of the fifties - was superseded by pop, op, hard edge, minimal and color field the art of the sixties - so now a new art, a humanistic art, will characterize the seventies.”
In 1969, Rhino Horn was founded in New York City by a group of artists who were bound together by their dedication to figurative art and by their collective notion that artistic practice should have both a critical and a social function. The seven founding members were Peter Passuntino (b. 1936), Benny Andrews (1930-2006), Jay Milder (b. 1934), Peter Dean (1934-1993), Ken Bowman (b. 1937), Michael Fauerbach (1942-2011), and Nicholas Sperakis (b. 1943). Between 1969 and 1978, active members of the rotating roster also included Bill Barrell (b. 1932), June Leaf (b. 1929), Leonel Góngora (1932-1999), Isser Aronovici (1932-1994), and Joseph Kurhajec (b. 1938). In addition, Rhino Horn counted a coterie of exhibiting guest artists, which included Christopher Lane (b. 1937), Red Grooms (b. 1937), and Lester Johnson (1919-2010).
As the epigraph for this introduction—a passage from the first paragraph of the group’s inaugural manifesto—implies, Rhino Horn consisted of an alliance of nonconformist figurative artists whose members refused to adhere to the art-as-business ideology that transformed fine art into an object of consumer culture in the United States during the 1960s. The members were optimistic that a form of art focused around themes such as social justice, civil rights, overcrowding and poverty in urban environments, the horrors of war, and imperialistic exploitation would raise awareness of these poignant contemporary socio-political issues. Indeed, although each of the artists in the group had a unique style and imagery, there was a collective emphasis on depicting the human condition as subject matter, criticizing social ills and cultural myopia, and encouraging a range of emotional responses. As cultural activists, moreover, the Rhino Horn artists had something in common with their contemporaries in the anti-Vietnam War movement. They promoted a non-violent approach to social commentary, and they envisioned that by interjecting their artwork into American culture they could help prompt the power of individual expressionism.
At present, there is little public or scholarly awareness of the work or impact of this ideologically high-minded yet artistically unpretentious coterie. No one has authored an extensive account of the group, or a predominant biography. Rhino Horn published three catalogs in the early 1970s using their personal funds or trading artwork for printing and publishing. The first, an accompaniment to their inaugural exhibition aptly titled by the artists The White Catalog (1970), featured the group’s manifesto and an essay by art historian Stephen D. Pepper. The second publication called The Black Catalog, (1974) featured an introduction by Peter Fingesten, an art historian from Pace University in New York and an essay by critic and former editor of ArtNews Lawrence Campbell. The third publication of the Rhino Horn group was called Rhino Horn: Personal Interiors (1974), and contained interviews and artist statements from Rhino Horn artists; Jay Milder, Nicholas Sperakis, Peter Dean, Leonel Gongora, Peter Passuntino, and Peter Dean.
More recently, on March 25, 2010, I moderated a panel that included Bill Barrell, Jay Milder, and Peter Passuntino. The event was produced by the New York based non-profit organization Artists Talk on Art and was entitled “Figurative Expressionism: Then and Now.” The panel discussion was well attended, and afterwards many of the audience members expressed an interest in learning more about the Rhino Horn group. This led me to explore Rhino Horn’s origins and to begin the construction of an account of the group based on the recollections of the surviving members regarding how their experiences in Rhino Horn affected their artistic careers. This account grew into a broader art-historical and critical examination of the work of the members and of the role of the group, which became the present thesis. This thesis is a history of Rhino Horn based on articles, catalog texts, & interviews by others and myself. The acknowledgment of the importance of Rhino Horn’s history presents an alternative art historical account of the period following Abstract Expressionism (the end of Modernism) and the era, which is often labeled as Postmodernism. Furthermore, the existence of Rhino Horn (throughout the 60’s and 70’s) contradicts the narrative in many art historical texts that Neo-Expressionism was a return to mythological, audacious and boldly charged figurative painting.
As existing literature on Rhino Horn remains sparse, it is hoped that this work will provide much-needed documentation of matters pertaining to the group’s origins and history, while also presenting Rhino Horn as a serious artists’ collective that deserves a place in the history of American art. This thesis is concerned with American art of the mid to late twentieth century that has been overshadowed by work within other, sometimes contrasting schools whose work received more contemporary critical attention and more subsequent popular acclaim.