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"Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible" opens at the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College
Forrest Bess, The Hermaphrodite, 1957. Oil on canvas, 8 x 11-1/4 inches. The Menil Collection, Houston, Gift of John Wilcox in memory of Frank Owen Wilson. Photo: Hickey-Robertson, Houston.

PURCHASE, NY.- The Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College is presenting Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible, a critically-acclaimed exhibition of the work of Bess, singular American artist, now on national tour. The Neuberger Museum of Art is the only East Coast venue at which the exhibition, organized by the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas, will be on view. It is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue, and continues through May 18, 2014.

Forrest Bess includes over 55 objects, 48 of which are extraordinary small-scale canvases, rich with enigmatic symbolism, that the artist said would reveal “the universal unconscious” of memories and experiences. Bess drew meaning for these symbols and motifs – that he said appeared to him in dreams since childhood – from various disciplines such as medicine, psychology, anthropology, and philosophy. Menil curator Clare Elliott noted: “In terms of style and their creator’s fascination with Jungian psychology, his paintings can be compared with ... Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, with whom he shared a New York City art gallery in the 1950s. But Bess stood apart from the Abstract Expressionists. Whereas they valued the large, spontaneous gesture, he was determined to reproduce the mystical symbols that came to him in his visions.”

Neuberger Chief Curator Tracy Fitzpatrick said: “We are so glad to be able to present this exhibition of the work of Forrest Bess and are grateful to Menil Collection, Houston, Assistant Curator Clare Elliott and artist Robert Gober for curating such an important show. Bess is one of the great artists of his generation to work in abstraction with a personal lexicon of symbols, and this exhibition provides significant and important insight into his work.”

Forrest Bess (1911-1977), a unique figure in American art, eked out a meager living fishing and selling bait by day in Bay City Texas, where he was born, while in his free time, he read, wrote, and painted prolifically. During World War II, he suffered a severe beating while serving in the US military after he revealed his homosexuality. On the advice of a psychiatrist, he resumed painting as a form of therapy. He recorded his hallucinations and recurring visions in his works, which included sketches and writings that eventually revealed his “thesis,” that the unification of male and female within one’s body could produce immortality. He used his own body in an attempt to prove it, performing self-surgery in order to turn himself into a self-described “pseudo-hermaphrodite.” He self-identified as an “outsider,” yet he gained recognition in the New York art community, showing his work between 1950 and 1967 with the prominent artist and dealer Betty Parsons.

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