Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Biograph Art Gallery Notes


The staff art show that hung during the Biograph's second anniversary party on Feb.11 included various works by several then-current employees and some former staff members, too. Most of those who worked there in the early days were artists of one stripe or another.

The sign above, by yours truly, was made to hang in the space of the lobby’s gallery that usually featured the artists' statements. I also had a couple of pieces in the show. One of them sold and that was fun. Another piece was stolen. That was a bummer and a weird kind of violation.

Although most of the art shows that hung in the gallery displayed the work of local/VCU-connected artists, that was not always the case. In the first three or four years, when the walls of the lobby regularly featured shows that changed every couple of months, or so, occasionally art by then-renown artists, usually printmakers, was on display. Among them were Ernest Trova, Robert Indiana and George Segal. The Trova print displayed was from the Falling Man series (see below).


In the summer of 1978 we had a show up that was memorable for an odd reason. It was a group of silkscreen prints and paintings by Barry Fitzgerald, a VCU-trained artist, who later played in a popular Richmond-based band that got some MTV exposure in the early '80s -- Single Bullet Theory.

Fitzgerald’s work had a pop art, reaction-to-advertising look. His droll sense of humor showed in a series of a half-dozen similar paintings. Each had a large line drawing in black against a flat field of a single color; the colors varied. The renderings were done in the sparse style one might have seen in a '50s government pamphlet's illustrations. Each had the same girl, Lois, coughing as she faced the viewer. Each had a caption written across the bottom of the colored panel which explained that Lois was choking on something.

Maybe Barry was asking about $100 apiece for them. Let’s say the first one was blue. It might have said, “Lois chokes on a gumdrop.” I think one of them did say that. The next one could have been yellow, it would have said something like, “Lois chokes on a pocket watch,” and so forth. The only other caption I remember had Lois choking on an Egg McMuffin.

One day a man claiming to be a lawyer called me on the telephone to say I had to take the Egg McMuffin piece down, pronto. He told me he was a local guy, who’d been talking that day with an attorney for the McDonald's fast food empire. He asserted that if I didn’t take it down McDonald's was going to lay some legal action on the artist, the Biograph and me.

For my part, I said something like, “What!”

The caller explained that it wasn’t a matter of Fitzgerald saying anything against McDonald's signature breakfast sandwich, which was fairly new then. No. The problem was that McDonald's wanted to protect the use of the words “Egg McMuffin.” They didn’t want it to become a generic term for a sandwich made by anyone using the same ingredients, etc.

Then I must have said something like, “What!” Anyway, the threat finished with how I better do what the caller said, because all the law was on McDonald's side.

Well, I called a lawyer friend, Jack Colan, to ask him what he thought. He said I ought to buy the painting. Then I told Fitzgerald what had happened. He loved it. We decided to leave it up to see what how it would play out.

Never heard from the wannabe McDonald's lawyer again. For a long time I've wished I had bought the painting.

Phil Trumbo had a few art shows at the Biograph. So at one time, for 50 bucks, I could have bought that infamous painting Phil did, which depicted a scene in which Mickey Mouse's little gloved hands had been chopped off with an ax. It looked like a cell from a cartoon. A dialogue balloon from a speaker outside the frame said something like, "Finally got rid of those goddamned gloves." Missed out on that one, too.

Bottom line: When you see art you like a lot, for whatever reason, buy it if you have the money. Later, you'll be glad you did.

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