Arnold Mesches – “Next in Line: The FBI Series”

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  • July 9, 2015

October 2 – November 2
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 2nd, 6-9 pm

Arnold Mesches, The FBI Series 45

Writing in The New York Times, Eleanor Heartney described the genesis of this unique series of paintings and collages:

For 26 years the F.B.I. watched the artist Arnold Mesches. Federal agents took note of his illustrations for political journals and magazines. They watched him march for peace and disarmament and demonstrate against Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. They were also, during this time, compiling an 800 page dossier on him.

Among its documents were reports by informers on his movements in Los Angeles during the 1950’s and 60’s. Three years ago, when he obtained the files under the Freedom of Information Act, he discovered that some of the informants had been people he considered friends, colleagues and, in one case, a lover.

“Lots of the information they gathered is ridiculous,” he said. “They had people reporting the dates my kids were born, what cars I drove, who I was seeing—they even had students reporting on my lectures.”

Today he has turned these files into art and put them on view at P.S. 1 in the exhibition “The F.B.I. Files.” The art consists of colorful collages of news clippings, personal photographs, 50’s era images and hand-written and typed script, all surrounded by decorative painted borders. Mr. Mesches said the works were inspired by the mix of image and sacred text found in illuminated medieval manuscripts.

When Mr. Mesches began his F.B.I. collages in December 2000, he saw them as the culmination of a series of works on his personal history. The climate of distrust they evoked seemed a historical curiosity, relics of an era long past when government succumbed to paranoia and ran roughshod over citizen’s rights. After September 11, 2001, and the more recent scandals involving NSA privacy intrusions, however, the mentality evoked by Mesches’ “F.B.I. Files” no longer seems comfortably distant.

Following its debut at P.S. 1, the exhibit began a national tour through 2005. The exhibit was honored as one of the best art shows of the year by the Art Critics of America.

Please visit Arnold Mesches’ FBI works gallery on our website to view these important works from this American Master.