The 1959 Arts Festival, which ended its three-week run yesterday, proved qualitatively to be the best yet in the outdoor Festival's eight-year history. Consisting of many exhibits and a wide variety of stage events, the Festival was scheduled to close June 21. But a freakishly persistent cold and drizzle kept many thousands of people away. So Mayor Hynes and the Park Commissioner consented to allow the exhibits to inhabit the Public Gardens an extra week.
Oil Painting Controversy
As long as there have been juries, there has been loud-voiced dissatisfaction with verdicts. And it will be ever thus. In all the previous Festivals the oil painting exhibit was selected by a jury from works submitted by any New Englander who wanted to compete.
This year, however, the Festival directors decided to have the jury draw up a list of specific painters, each of whom would then be invited to show three paintings. Invitations thus went out to 51 artists. Of these, 22 protested the non-democratic nature of the exhibit by refusing to participate.
Whatever the merits of the controversy, it was helpful to see the work of the remaining 29 artists through three works each rather than just one. I was most impressed by the paintings of Jan Cox, Lawrence Kupferman, and John Laurent--all original, skillful, and powerful works. Some, however, did not deserve to be shown, such as those of Josef Albers, Robert Hamilton, and Robert S. Neuman.
Rival Painting Show
Shortly after the Festival announced its invitational policy, an Open Competition Committee formed to channel the opposition. When no change was forthcoming, the group decided to sponsor a protest show, located in the nearby Universalist Meeting House on Charles Street.
Everyone who so desired contributed to the show. As might be expected, there was a great deal of worthless stuff; but undeniably the show contained numerous items of great merit.
At any rate, this show provided Bostonians with a local counterpart of a long-standing Parisian tradition, in which painters excluded from official exhibitions have banded together to put on their own show. Thus Boston had its own salon des refuses.
As with the oils, the sculpture exhibit was invitational rather than competitive. Here the quality was generally high. Most of the sculptors had two works apiece. I particularly admired Kahlil Gibran's "Pieta," Peter Grippe's "King Minos Number 2," Liliam Saarinen's "Portrait of an Author" (whom I took to be Edwin O'Connor, author of the novel The Last Hurrah), and the items by Henry Kreis and Robert Lamb. Donald Stoltenberg's so-so "Shipyard Cranes" won the $500 Invitational Award for Sculpture or Painting; and Gilbert Franklin's appealing "Beach Figure" captured the Festival's $1000 Grand Prize.
A special one-man show contained a dozen paintings by the American artist Edward Hopper. This should have pleased those with conservative tastes. Hopper chose ordinary, commonplace subjects and painted them almost realistically. But the almost is crucial; for herein lies his personal contribution. Somehow he was able to capture masterfully the moods of lone-liness. The best-known item in this dozen was "The Bootleggers." In it, Hopper painted his clapboard house not white, not gray, but light blue; and this bluishness works an ineffable effect on the beholder.
Unlike the oil and sculpture exhibits, the drawings shown were selected from an open national competition. Here 156 artists each had one or two works on display. Among the best artists were Wendell Fore Jr., Howard Hardy, Lawrence Kupferman (again), and Pietro Lazzari. A fine example of representational art was Frank L. Viner's "Man"; of non-representational, Tetsuo Ochikubo's "No. 2."
This exhibit, however, did contain a lot of junk. For example, the fields of scratches that constituted Robert Partin's "Offing" and "In the Rain" surely did not merit showing. Nor did William Tokeshi's field of dashes; Tokeshi labeled it "No Title," and small wonder. Prizes of $250 went to four works, none of which was outstanding.
A selection of paintings by children was offered to demonstrate the freshness of vision and uninhibited view of the world so characteristic of the young. The names of the painters were withheld; only the age was indicated, ranging from kindergarten into adolescence. Some of the teenage items were quite remarkable.