"Role Models?" at the Chelsea Art Museum
By Lydia Keck
“NY Arts-Magazin 2003
The legendary image of a great celebrity is usually a mask for a tormented past. Jazz musician Louis Armstrong grew up in poverty with his grandmother in Louisiana. When, as a twelve-year-old, he fired a gun into the air on New Year's Eve, he was arrested and put into reform school. It was as an inmate of this strict establishment that he learned to play the trumpet. The greatest blues musician of all time, B.B. King, was born on a farm near Indianola, Mississippi. His father abandoned the family when the boy was four years old; his mother died five years later. At the age of twelve he got a steady job as a farmhand and spent ten years following the plough over the fields.
Film actress Marilyn Monroe grew up in a foster family, where she was seriously sexually abused by her guardian. In 1945 she worked as a photographer's model and in 1953 had her first international success with the film "How to Marry a Millionaire". But she always suffered from a lack of recognition as a film actress. Amid a web of compromising personal entanglements with powerful men, she died in 1962 of an overdose of drugs.
The Chelsea Art Museum specializes in contemporary and postmodern art. From 4 to 14 September, it will be exhibiting icons of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong and B.B. King by Swiss pop expressionist Roland Muri. The artist poses searching questions about modern European art and culture. In the forties and fifties, these US stars achieved fame in both the United State and in an emerging, younger Europe. In the seventies, Pop Art transformed the image of Marilyn Monroe from one kind of icon (American cinema) to another (international media).
What is really concealed behind the color combinations and histories of Muri's pop icons? These symbolically charged paintings by the Swiss artist break new ground with their layered painting technique, the incorporation of texts, and reversed lettering. His frequently cryptic message has political and social implications: narrative elements are reduced to the artistic essentials before taking form on the canvas.
Nothing is ever lost. With its recollections of the film and art worlds of a former era, the Chelsea Art Museum's exhibition turns the everyday reality of the times into discussion topics for the visitor. In a mirroring and a blending of cultures from both sides of the Atlantic, "Masterpieces" juxtaposes pop icons with a Rembrandt self-portrait. It is being exhibited here for the first time, and is to become part of the museum's permanent collection.
Muri's exhibition is opening with a special event. Jean Miotte, one of the founders of abstract painting, pop expressionist Roland Muri and multitalented German television chef Horst Lichter are hoping - in the current state of tension between America and Europe - to act as ambassadors and make a contribution to detente. Here, the great French artist Jean Miotte (whose works may be seen on the third storey of the museum) will be joining Horst Lichter, a traditional German cook who hopes, by way of a return for American influences on western European culture, to export something of European cuisine to the States. Swiss artist Roland Muri will be involved in this joint culinary campaign in the role of "mediator" - all in all, a symbol of productive coexistence. This European artistic and culinary campaign will be taking place at the Chelsea Art Museum on 2 September between 5 and 9 p.m. in the museum's entrance hall.