Monday, June 25, 2012

Why LeRoy Neiman, a son of St. Paul,

Was not too fond of it...

... one thing comes through loud and clear.
Neiman never made peace with his hometown – or with critics who refused to give him the respect he felt he deserved. Even though he was in the final stages of negotiating with the city of St. Paul to establish a downtown museum displaying much of his artwork, he was outraged when Pioneer Press columnist Katherine Lanpher wrote that his art "stinks," and compared his work with "Precious Moments figurines and ceramic villages of Little Dickensian houses."
Neiman promptly withdrew his offer to put $4.5 million in the project and denounced Lanpher's column as a “savage, insulting attack on my character and work. I feel like I was mugged ... in my old home town.” As a result, the museum was never built.
Neiman writes in his book that the museum idea was opposed by “a cabal of uptight citizens (who) couldn't justify matching me up with their Saintly City. It was the Playboy artist stigma again, but I was over it. That was the last time I let St. Paul put me on a roasting spit.”
Ironically, Lanpher moved to New York in 2004, where she is a radio host and writing mentor. She told Mary Ann Grossmann of the Pioneer Press she is “still stunned at the reaction to that column. It makes me wonder if Neiman was looking for a way out of that museum. After all, he usually brushed off his critics.” But she added, “His paintings have their fans. But even those of us who didn't like his work have to admire his masterpiece: his colorful, exuberant life.”
Neiman was no less forgiving of the art world’s establishment, which refused to consider him a major artist. Its attitude was summed up by a New York Times art critic on Saturday who described him as “the archetypal hack” whose popularity and enormous commercial appeal stemmed from “his ambitiously opportunistic personality and his position as Hugh Hefner’s court artist. … With his ever-present cigar and enormous mustache, he was a cliché of the bon vivant and a bad artist in every way.”
That’s a cruel judgment and, I think, a snobbishly wrong one that will change now that Neiman is gone from the scene. I predict that he will be remembered as a quintessential American artist who, while often outside the mainstream of the art world, was at the center of American life in the 20th century.

We shall see. Stranger things have happened in the art world. 

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