Billy Apple, artist who was his own life's work, dies at 85

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Friday, June 21, 2024

Billy Apple, artist who was his own life's work, dies at 85
Billy Apple at a show of his neon sculptures in the lobby of the Pepsi-Cola Building on Park Avenue at 59th Street in Manhattan, Oct. 7, 1966. Over his long, provocative career, the artist changed his name, registered it as a trademark, branded products with it, had his genome sequenced and, finally, arranged to have his cells extracted and stored so that they might survive forever even if he could not. He died on Sept. 6 at his home in Auckland, New Zealand, at 85. Neal Boenzi/The New York Times.

by Penelope Green

NEW YORK, NY.- Over his long, provocative career, artist Billy Apple changed his name, registered it as a trademark, branded products with it, had his genome sequenced and, finally, arranged to have his cells extracted and stored so that they might survive forever even if he could not. He died Sept. 6 at his home in Auckland, New Zealand, at 85.

The cause was esophageal cancer, said Mary Morrison, his wife and collaborator.

He was born Barrie Bates in Auckland but became Billy Apple in London after graduating, barely, from the Royal College of Art in 1962, one of a rebellious cohort that included David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj.

By 1964, he was in New York City (subletting a loft on the Bowery from sculptor Eva Hesse) and showing his work. His cast bronze, half-eaten watermelon slice was one of many objects included in “The American Supermarket,” an early pop spectacle at the Bianchini Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where one could buy artist’s versions of real products: a painted turkey by Roy Lichtenstein, candy made by Claes Oldenburg and Campbell’s soup cans signed by Andy Warhol. The gallerist took orders on a grocer’s pad.

“He was a conceptual artist in the most fundamental sense,” said Christina Barton, a university museum director and art historian who is the author of “Billy Apple Life/Work,” a biography 10 years in the making and published in 2020. “He was committed to living the idea in every minute of every day. He never stopped being ‘Billy Apple,’ which of course is a total invention.”

Apple went on to work in neon, enchanting some reviewers such as Robert Pincus-Witten of Artforum magazine, who described Apple’s rainbows as “sensuous neon impersonations.” But city inspectors were not charmed. In 1966, when Apple was 27, they unplugged a show of his at the Pepsi Gallery, in the lobby of the Pepsi-Cola Building at Park Avenue and 59th Street, saying the pieces weren’t wired to code.

The show’s opening had been so well attended that it caused a traffic jam. One attendee was Tom Wolfe, who later panned Apple’s pieces in New York Magazine — “they’re limp … they splutter,” he wrote. (Wolfe was writing about the artistry of commercial neon sign makers and poking fun at the art world in the process.)

It was a riotous time. Apple and his peers, the early pop and conceptual artists, were engaged in all sorts of shenanigans intended to upend notions of what might be considered art and where and how it might be presented.

Their art-making methods — Apple went through a tidying phase, washing windows, scrubbing floor tiles and vacuuming up the dirt on his studio’s roof — were not always well received. His “Roof Dirt” piece, which came in the form of an invitation in 1971, prompted John Canaday of The New York Times to write that it “belongs to an area of art‐related activity in which nothing but the word of the artists makes the difference between a put‐on and a seriously offered project.”

Apple then turned to less-festive practices, such as saving tissues from his nosebleeds and toilet paper from his bathroom activities. When this work was included in a solo show at the Serpentine Gallery in London, some objected, and the police shut it down. But Apple was no prankster. He was deadly serious about his work, which, besides meticulously documenting his bodily processes, often included renovation and redecorating suggestions to institutions such as the Guggenheim. (He proposed getting rid of its planters; the museum ignored him.)

Back home in New Zealand, to which he returned for good in 1990, Apple began exploring, in a variety of work, ideas about the transactional nature of the art market, branding practices, mapping and scientific advances. Among the works was an apple cast from pure gold, Billy Apple coffee and tea (for sale in galleries only) and the “immortalization” of cells from his own body, which are now stored at the American Type Culture Collection and the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland.

Barrie George Bates was born Dec. 31, 1935, the eldest of four children. His father, Albert George Bates, worked for The New Zealand Post. His mother, Marija (Petrie) Bates, was a homemaker who allowed no toys in the house because she didn’t like the mess; Barrie improvised with what he could find in the kitchen cupboards.

He was bullied at school but did well in chemistry and drawing. He worked as a commercial artist in Auckland before winning a partial scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London. He asked his girlfriend at the time to write his general studies dissertation, an imagined conversation between Larry Rivers and Vincent Van Gogh at a New York jazz club. Barton, Apple’s biographer, said the paper was an early example of what would be his art-making method: outsourcing.

The dissertation allowed him to earn his degree, although he tore up the registrar’s note telling him so and skipped the graduation ceremony. (His classmate Hockney attended, in a gold lame jacket.)

While in New York City, Apple worked episodically for the buzzy advertising agencies of the 1960s and ’70s, including Jack Tinker & Partners and Doyle Dane Bernbach. When Marshall McLuhan guest-edited an issue of Harper’s Bazaar (yes, that happened, in April 1968), Apple was a contributor. He also opened his own gallery, APPLE.

In addition to his wife, Apple is survived by his brothers, Colin and Tony, and a sister, Judith Bates Marsden. His marriage to Jacki Blum, an American artist, ended in divorce in 1981. Together for 24 years, Morrison, also an artist, and Apple married a few days before his death.

In 2016, Apple donated some of his early-career bathroom tissues along with a contemporary fecal sample to a molecular biologist, who was able to determine that nearly half of the bacteria in Apple’s gut was still present in his body decades later, as The New Zealand Herald reported. It was a boon for science, and Apple, too, made new work from the study.

Becoming Billy Apple, the artist told an interviewer in 2018, “allowed me to have good subject matter.”

“I could determine what I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t have to look outside of myself. I could build my own brand, as the saying goes.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

October 8, 2021

iGavel Auctions Autumn Asian Art Sale now open for bidding

Michelangelo's David not censored at Expo, officials say

Sotheby's to sell late Botticelli masterpiece for $40+ million in January 2022

The Van Gogh Museum opens 'The Potato Eaters: Mistake or Masterpiece?'

Phillips to offer rare painting by Georgia O'Keeffe

Looking close at the fragile beauty of Chinese painting

Landmark Frida Kahlo exhibition opens in the Netherlands

Tanzanian-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah wins Nobel Literature Prize

Dep Art Gallery opens an exhibition devoted to the works of Imi Knoebel

Pace Gallery announces installation of monumental Joel Shapiro sculpture at the historic IBM Building

Billy Apple, artist who was his own life's work, dies at 85

Google Arts & Culture launches 'Klimt vs. Klimt: The Man of Contradictions'

Tina Turner sells music rights to BMG

Rodrigo Moynihan now represented by David Nolan Gallery

Winnie-the-Pooh bridge fetches over £130,000 at UK auction

Signed page from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Hound of the Baskervilles' finds home in Heritage manuscripts event

The Wellin Museum of Art presents the exhibition 'Sarah Oppenheimer: Sensitive Machine'

Venus Over Manhattan opens its first solo exhibition of work by the Polish artist and cult figure Maryan

Exhibition at Heller Gallery reflects on twenty years of Lino Tagliapietra's practice

Their downtown hits are now sharing a Broadway stage

Their Thai cave rescue film was done. Then 87 hours of footage arrived.

Gorgeous Galle vases lead the way in Neue Auctions' Art & Antiques Auction

Review: Carnegie Hall reopens with a blaze from Philadelphia

Exhibition features eight projects by a new generation of Chinese architects

What Agile framework should we choose?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Cost is Expensive or Cheap

Five Ways Playing Online Casino is Better than the Real Thing

TBC Hunter Guide

Why Is Amazon the Top Contender to Stream NFL Sunday Ticket?

5 Tips for Taking Artistic Talent to the Next Level

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful