BY ANTHONY HADEN-GUEST
What do you call a space where productive folk—artists, writers, musicians, whatever—get to meet regularly; amuse each other; compete; strike sparks off each other? A salon? Yes, that’ll do. Old school salons had a human hub, an individual to motivate the core members, but there have been variations on this. So, what could one describe as a working salon during my four decades in New York? There was a time when, if you wanted to see the art world in all its rambunctious splendor, you just headed off to Max’s Kansas City and hoped it wasn’t one of those evenings when fists were flying. And now? Don’t ask! Today’s haute art world is guarded, decorous and socially risk-averse.
With this in mind, I recently revisited The Banquet Years, Roger Shattuck’s sixty-year-old examination of The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France: 1885 to World War I. It’s the bracing tale of a period when one avant-garde movement after another came tumbling, like so many rabbits out of a hat. Shattuck describes how one of the avant-garde movements came to be: Henri Rousseau, “Le Douanier,” so called for his career in a Paris toll office before he devoted himself to painting the canvases Shattuck describes as “primitive” or “naif;” the word Outsider had not been coined for the as yet unrecognized genre. In 1885, two canvases in the official Salon des Champs-Élysées were slashed with knives by outraged spectators, and then removed and hung in the Salon des Refusés. Le Douanier shortly was playing the fiddle in the street to make money to eat, but by 1894 he was getting so well-known that jealous artists wanted to drop him from the salon. In 1905, though, two of his canvases were accepted by the brand-new Salon d’Automne.
It’s curious in some ways that the teeny-tiny avant-garde world of the early 20th century should seem so crowded, whereas the huge, over-stuffed art industry of today can seem so remote; indeed, alienating. What we damned well need is more hang-outs. And an actual working salon, that would be a treat, wouldn’t it? Yes, it would. And, yes, it is.
So, following the great tradition of the art salon concept, Manolis Projects of Miami is reviving the practice of artists gathering together not only to exhibit their works as a collective, but to engage in a visual dialogue within a supportive arena, and in this case, a 5,000-square foot studio environment. The players have changed, but the game basically is the same: like Rousseau’s Banquet, Manolis has invited a talented and diverse group of ten creative artists to share ideas and concepts that promise to make this first Manolis Projects salon show a fascinating and memorable inaugural event. This is a welcome modern version of the 19th century French salons, where artists not only interacted with each other, but shared their vision and passion for making art with the public, as well.