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Gary Erbe 50 year retrospective opens at Reading Public Museum
Gary Erbe (b. 1944), Just Across the Street, 2013, oil on canvas, 50 x 56 inches, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.

READING, PA.- The Reading Public Museum announces Gary Erbe: 50 Year Retrospective, an exceptional exhibition of more than fifty paintings that draws on the impressive body of work produced by the New Jersey-based artist over the past half century. The exhibition is on view at The Museum from May 5 through August 5, 2018. The display of more than fifty works is part of a national touring exhibition that also traveled to the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio; the Brinton Museum in Big Horn, Wyoming; and will end at the John F. Peto Studio Museum in Island Heights, New Jersey.

Erbe (b. 1944) is a painter with a national reputation who has challenged traditional notions about the path that an artist is expected to take. Notably, he did not attend an art academy or school of art; rather, Erbe forged his own trail, guided by his extraordinary self-taught abilities, keen sense of observation, and some good old-fashioned resourcefulness.

Erbe’s remarkably engaging paintings, constructions, and sculptures simultaneously pay homage to historical masters of the genre of trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) still life, and reflect his own moment in history, drawing on complex themes that resonate in the modern world. The artist enlists comic books, Hollywood films and television, sports, advertising, the Wild West, politics, Americana, and other aspects of popular culture as subjects in his works. These objects would be familiar to any baby boomer, reflecting his own generation and speaking broadly to his personal life experiences, but they also appeal to much younger viewers.

Always an innovator, Erbe even established a new category of highly naturalistic painting in the late 1960s and early 1970s which he dubbed “Levitational Realism,” where objects in his paintings seem to magically float in space. His unique studio practice involves the assemblage of what he calls “constructions” or gatherings of the real objects or “props” that he depicts as actual size in his finished compositions. A few of these assemblages are included in the exhibition and offer insight into the process of painstaking planning and execution of his paintings.

As visually stunning, meticulously observed, and carefully constructed as Erbe’s painted compositions are, their significance is enhanced by the subtext of memory and nostalgia, which are fundamental to understanding their meaning. Embedded in each of these works is the vision of the artist, for whom each composition—and in many instances, each object—is loaded with personal meaning. Not all of these meanings are revealed to the viewer, but what is conveyed is the complexity of thought, attention to detail, and unparalleled technical ability that have distinguished Erbe as one of the most engaging artists of our time.

Erbe’s work is included in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK; the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC and the New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT, among others. He is the recipient of an unprecedented 6 Gold Medals at the Allied Artists of America, Inc. Annual Exhibitions held at the National Arts Club, New York, NY and the Medal for Lifetime Achievement in American Art from The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH.

The artist will present a Senior Series lecture on Friday, June 22 at 1:30 p.m. at The Museum.

An exhibition catalog, Footprints: The Art and life of Gary Erbe (2016, ISBN 987-1-882790-71-5), will be available for purchase in the Reading Public Museum’s Gift Shop.

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