press release

A singular figure in American art who experienced significant recognition and painful isolation during his life – and whose fame has waxed and waned since his death − Forrest Bess (1911-77) is the subject of keen new interest. At the 2012 Whitney Biennial, one of the most provocative projects was an exhibition curated by sculptor Robert Gober, The Man That Got Away, which illuminated some of the most disturbing aspects of Bess’s art and life.

The first museum retrospective devoted to Bess in more than twenty years, Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible will present 48 of the artist’s visionary paintings, dating from 1946 to 1970. Organized by the Menil Collection and curated by Clare Elliott, the exhibition will also include an expanded version of the Robert Gober installation. Works in the exhibition will come from the Menil’s own holdings, private lenders in the United States and Europe, and such major institutions as the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible will be on view at the Menil from April 18 through August 19, 2013.

“Forrest Bess has always been associated with Houston,” stated Menil director Josef Helfenstein, “where he lived at the beginning of his career. The Contemporary Arts Museum, enabled by John and Dominique de Menil, became one of the first institutions to exhibit his work. The Menil is particularly suited to undertake this first retrospective in decades because of our founders’ prescience in collecting Bess’s paintings, and also because of the ongoing ties between the Menil and the contemporary artists who have led the way in renewing interest in his work.”

Born in Bay City, Texas, the son of a housewife and an oil-field roughneck, Forrest Bess taught himself to paint by copying illustrations in books and magazines, and later by imitating the still-life and landscape paintings of artists he admired, including Vincent van Gogh and Albert.

Forrest Bess:
Seeing Things Invisible