Vern Blosum, Fifteen Minutes, 1962. Photo: Essex Street, New York

Vern Blosum (1936–2017)

Artist Vern Blosum, who never revealed his true identity to the general public, has died. Essex Street gallery in New York confirmed the news of his passing. He was perhaps best known for his paintings that were intended to mock Pop art. Ironically, the works were included in several exhibitions dedicated to the movement and were acquired by institutions such as MoMA in New York.

In the December 2013 issue of Artforum, art historian Natilee Harren wrote, “At the moment of Pop’s emergence, Blosum took advantage of the conflation of art object and commercial object proposed by the genre’s main protagonists, effectively turning the logic of Pop back on itself. It didn’t matter that Blosum didn’t exist. His ruse succeeded thanks to the institutional acceptance of neo-dada aesthetics and a rapacious art market and culture of criticism desperate for novel products and movements to name.”

Maxwell Graham, founder of Essex Street, told that “it was Vern Blosum’s wish that he always remain anonymous.” Blosum chose his nom de plume, which refers to his “Vernal Blossom” series, a number of botanical illustration paintings, in 1961. The artist was represented by both Castelli Gallery and Essex Street. “He was active between 1961 and 1964, and then again for a brief reprise in 2015, a swan song if you will,” Graham said, adding that “he will be very dearly missed.”

The artist’s early works were included in exhibitions at the Oakland Art Museum, the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in DC, the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston, the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, MIT in Cambridge, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Decades later, he reemerged in the art world and was featured in shows at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in Geneva, Kunsthaus Glarus, the Aishti Foundation in Beirut, and again at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

A large-scale retrospective, which included forty-four of his works depicting mundane objects, was organized by Lionel Bovier, with Fabrice Stroun, at the Kunsthalle Bern in 2014.

Commenting on the paintings in the exhibition’s catalogue, Bovier wrote: “The way I understand their ‘fictionality’ has more to do with a literary tradition than the visual arts: the invention of the ‘figure’ of an author, whose production is in tune with its context, rather than a body of more or less ‘fake,’ or ironic, or critical works. This is a historical corpus. We can track down where and when it was created and exhibited. It disappeared from view for a number of decades, and has just recently resurfaced as a collection of some kind of UPOS (unidentified painted objects) . . . That’s precisely what always fascinated me in art history: there’s a narrative that emerges and it subsumes many artist’s production; it becomes dominant and solidifies (in museums, collections, books, university syllabus, etc.), but it also needs disruption if it is to remain alive.”