July 3 - 25, 2009

This summer Bellas Artes will present its fifth exhibition of works by Robert Kushner, Caravansarai. In the early 1970s Kushner was known for his work as a performance artist – an artist whose costumes became as well known as his performances. At that time, he also became a founder of the Pattern and Decoration movement. By the late 1980s he focused on painting on canvas, concentrating on flowers. In Caravansarai, Kushner expands his explorations of floral imagery, color, line, and opulent surfaces in works on paper and a group of recent canvases. All of the works employ gold or silver leaf. Some include mica powder. Many of the paintings feature one of Kushner’s signature surfaces, oxidized copper leaf. The oxidized copper provides a luminous green ground on which the painted flowers burst forth and unfold.

A new element in the works are vigorous background patterns inspired by Uzbek tribal embroideries and Japanese kimonos. Uzbekistan was crossed by caravans trading and traveling along the Silk Road, a network of routes that joined Constantinople (Istanbul) and Chang’an (I,‘an) China, beginning in 190 BC. Caravansarai became the main stops along the routes for the exchange of goods, culture, and religion for the next 8,000 years, until sea routes were established that added trading partners, such as Japan.

Although Kushner has used Uzbek and Japanese motifs in earlier works, they now come into prominence. Yet often they are interrupted or discontinued by a diverse choreography of shifting surfaces and colors. Flowers, such as chrysanthemums, camellias, and irises dance and float above this patterned language, but also may be found half buried or embedded in the ground.

Author Justin Spring writes of Kushner’s vision as “work that is sensual and extravagant, but nonetheless has a certain unexpected roughness and drama. In this use of strong contrasts and cross cultural borrowing, these works remind me of other landmarks of western exoticism: the Guerlain perfume Shalimar, for example, with its dense layering of eastern and western scents (musk, flowers, citrus) into a single, heady evocation of Middle-Eastern sensuality; or Borodin’s fusion of Central Asian and Western musical tradition in his Polovetsian dances for the opera Prince Igor; or Bakst’s imaginative reinterpretation of the orient in his designs for the Ballet Russes’ Scheherezade.”

The artist’s work may be found in many collections in the United States and Europe: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The National Gallery of Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Denver Art Museum, The Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, The J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, The Tate Gallery in London, Galleria degli Ufizzi in Florence, and Museum Ludwig in St. Petersburg.

In 2004, Kushner installed two mosaic murals, 4 Seasons Seasoned, at the 77th Street and Lexington Avenue subway station in New York City. Soon another large public work of art by the artist – an 80 foot long marble mosaic, Welcome – will be installed at the Raleigh Durham International Airport in North Carolina.


July 1-30, 2005

Robert Kushner, who emerged in the early 1970s as a performance artist whose costumes were as important as the performance, was a founder of the Pattern and Decoration movement of that era. In the early 80s, he was painting the human figure on unstretched fabric. By the late 80s he was painting on canvas concentrating on flowers which he has continued into the present.

Although motifs and compositions from Japanese art have greatly influenced Kushner's paintings on canvas and paper for many years, his fourth exhibition at Bellas Artes features paintings on antique Japanese folding screens. The title of the exhibition refers to new paintings on old Japanese screens which Kushner buys from antique auctions, flea markets and thrift shops in Japan and then paints with his usual techniques of oil painting and European gilding rather than the traditional Japanese Nihonga technique. According to Kushner, his screens are closer to the traditions of Western art rather than Japanese screen imagery because of the bold scale of the floral elements, the juxtaposition of outlines and filled forms and the sensation of groundlessness evoked by his use of randomness as a compositional determinant.

Kushner has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally. His work is in the collections of many museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Tate Gallery in London and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

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