Forrest Bess

Forrest Bess, Untitled (No. 12 A), 1957, oil on canvas, 12 x 18".

THE CONTINUED mythic, outsider status of Forrest Bess is a testament to the sheer anxiety he sparks around hierarchies of vision and social organization—hierarchies that are central to how we legitimate works of art. It is no small feat for an artist who showed regularly during the peak years of Betty Parsons Gallery (that epicenter of the development and promotion of Abstract Expressionism) to continually reemerge as a holy grail of glimmering and elusive marginality. Since Bess’s death in 1977, his work has made cameo appearances in discourses as varied as an essay in Art Journal griping about the global ascendance of curators over artists circa Documenta 10, which claimed Bess’s “intensely personal worlds” as an antidote (1997); a lesbian-feminist revisionist history of Parsons’s gallery, which put the painter at the forefront of an ostracized queer AbEx (1994); and John

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