“George Deem: The Art of Art History” opens to the public at the Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery of the Boston Athenæum, located at 10½ Beacon St., on Wednesday, April 11.
Deem, best known for his breathtakingly vivid re-workings of classic images from art history, died in 2008 at age 75, after a 50-year career as a painter, spent almost entirely in New York City.
Organized by David B. Dearinger, Susan Morse Hilles curator of paintings and sculpture at the Boston Athenæum, with the cooperation of Deem’s estate, the exhibit includes some 30 paintings in oil on canvas, wood panel, wood pallet, linen and paper. In the first important museum exhibition of Deem’s work since the artist’s death, the show focuses on the paintings Deem produced with inspiration from two of his favorite sources: the paintings of the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer and those of 19th- and 20th-century American artists, including Gilbert Stuart, John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.
All artists rework the art of the past, at times imitating, at times extending, and at times rejecting the work of artists they admire. Deem moved the process of homage and change into uncharted territory.
Art historian Robert Rosenblum has called Deem’s unconventional thematic choices “free-flowing [fantasy] about the facts and fictions of art history.”
Writing in ARTnews, Robert Ayers praises Deem’s “unusual intelligence” and his acute awareness “of the artistic possibilities of his own and postmodern times.” Critic Holland Cotter notes the artist’s “uncannily faithful versions” of Old Master works which “establish an ongoing creative reciprocity between past and present, and render distinctions of send-up and homage inseparable.”
Information about Boston Athenæum membership, programs and hours can be found online at www.bostonathenaeum.org.