Sunday, April 18, 2021
 

Artist and artists’ rights proponent Chapman Kelley dead at 88

Some of you may remember Kelley from his fight against the Chicago Park District concerning Kelley’s artwork, Wildflower Works. John Viramontes, of the Council for Artists’ Rights, writes: (please click on page 2, below).

Born in San Antonio, Texas, Chapman Kelley attended the Hugo D. Pohl Art School and graduated from the oldest art school in the United States, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. A life-long fine art painter, he was never shy about praising his former art students such as Alton Bowman, Jane Goldman, James HavardBruce Kunkle, Noel Mahaffey, Ross Merrill, Tom Palmore, Roy Perkinson, Marty Ray, David Searcy, Anne Weary, Robert “Bob” Yarber and Willie Wayne Young. Alton Bowman fondly remembers, “Chapman helped many art students.”
Artists’ rights lawyer Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento said, “Chapman was a great artist and a strong and relentless defender of artists’ rights. His fight to keep his major sculpture, Wildflower Works, alive and in view against the Chicago Park District’s wish to destroy it was inspirational, and a beacon for other artists wishing to fight to keep art alive. I will miss Chapman.”   In the wake of Kelley’s first New York exhibition in 1963, he was elated to learn Life Magazine had published an article about it, Sold Out Art. The show featured work by Lee Bontecou, Marcel Cavalla, Sidney Goodman, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Wesley Klug, Robert Kulicke, Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Wayne Thiebaud, Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselman and Jane Wilson.   The same year Kelley received public recognition from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his oil on canvas painting Implacement Dune. As a current member of the Academy’s voting committee, iconic American realist painter Edward Hopper affirmed Kelley’s stature.   Kelley’s work is in 1,000+ public and private collections, including the one of Elaine de Kooning. Prolific art collector Joseph H. Hirshhorn, founding donor of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on the National Mall, and a collector of Kelley’s work, gifted a Kelley diptych to President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady Ladybird. Kelley was the Johnson’s final social visitor on January 20, 1973 at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall, Texas. 36 hours later, the President expired. Stonewall is Johnson’s birthplace and deathplace.

Kelley’s commitment to supporting urgent grassroots issues in Dallas, Texas, compelled D Magazine to document it in its 1982 piece, “Will Development Spoil Oak Lawn?” referencing Kelley’s involvement in fighting for inner-city housing.   First Lady Ladybird Johnson was moved to convey a signed personal note to Kelley, dated November 12, 1982, proclaiming, “…you are the real pioneer…” about his Wildflower Works self-funded public art.   Visual artists Ed Paschke and Nancy became good friends with Kelley when he lived in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The relationship lead to Paschke penciling in on his calendar, “Chapman’s” for a one-on-one meeting at Kelley’s art studio November 11, 2004. Prominently displayed at the Ed Paschke Art Center is Paschke’s wall calendar for the public to wonder about his unrealized aspirations, including helping Kelley in his fight for U.S. artists’ rights, his federal pioneering litigation against the Chicago Park District for its destruction of Kelley’s masterpiece environmental painting, Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 – 2004. Unfortunately, not long after their important rendezvous, Paschke passed on Thanksgiving Day. 

In 2011 D Magazine published its second “Kelley” article, “Art Cops,” regarding his and Dallas art historian Sam Blain’s championing of artists’ rights. Mention is made of the tens of millions of dollars secret sale of a Mark Rothko Untitled (1961) painting deemed as “irrevocably promised” to the Dallas Museum of Art by private donors and documented as such in a hefty five-pound “Fast Forward” print catalog. It’s but one of many Dallas art world issues surfaced by Blain and Kelley. “Art Cops” concludes its piece with a warning: both men should be considered “dangerous” for their speaking truth to power!

The Tate Britain reached out to Kelley and informed him the museum was strongly considering inclusion of Kelley’s sustainable public artwork, the 66,000 sq. ft. noncommissioned Chicago Wildflower Works 1984 – 2004, in the museum’s 2011 online exhibition, The Gallery of Lost Art. Kelley was absolutely jubilant to learn the Tate was characterizing his effort as a “major work of contemporary art.” Ultimately however, the museum politely declined to include the artwork in its global immersive show, citing Kelley‘s cutting-edge visual artists’ rights litigation, the then-pending Kelleyv. Chicago Park District, which eventually landed in the lap of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Kelley was supremely confident in his role as predominant art advisor to a Dallas wife and husband team of private art collectors. Under his direct supervision they built an impressive collection of masterworks of Impressionist and modern art. Several years ago the collection was bequeathed, en masse, to the Dallas Museum of Art. In May 2018, the museum issued a gushing press release about that important bequest. Kelley’s keen “eye” and inimitable art world acumen proved advantageous to the DMA.

In 2019 European Union Ambassador to the U.S., Stavros Lambrinidis (Greek: ??????? ???????????) and spouse Phoebe Kapouano furnished their personal residence in Washington D.C. with Texas artists’ artwork, an historical first. Included is Kelley’s 1959 37” x 30” oil on canvas, New Heights. The 30+ pieces of art are on a multi-year loan from the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts.  

When the Art Institute of Chicago went public with its 2020 show, Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again, the media blitz caught Chapman’s eye: right away he wanted to be a part of it. An earthy and robust Kelley entourage blossomed at the event. Notably, decades ago Chapman had taken a cue from his friend, the artist Christo (1935 – 2020), to self-fund his public artwork. To continue self-funding his Wildflower Works, Kelley had to sacrifice important items from his personal art collection. Although Chapman was keenly aware his Andy Warhol Little Electric Chair would exponentially appreciate in market value, he sold it to art dealer Ivan Karp. for under $7,000.

Kelley’s website, chapmankelley.com includes links to his Memoir, and more about his life is on the Dallas Art History blog.  

In a flash of Bucky Fuller-like intuition, Kelley created the Chapman Kelley Wildflower Works Foundation, recognized by the IRS as a not for profit 501 (c)(3) charitable organization and whose mission is to educate the public on how to conserve precious potable water by using indigenous plantings, thereby nourishing sustainable environments and its dependent natural pollinators such as honeybees and the Monarch butterfly and other beneficiaries.

Please consider sending supporting funds directly to:   Chapman Kelley Wildflower Works Foundation C/O Chase Bank 1204 E 53rd St. Chicago, IL 60615 Phone: (773) 241-5110  

Donations are tax deductible to the full extent of the law.

 

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