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Pleasure Bound - Bruce Helander's Art at Manolis Projects

Manolis Projects/Miami is celebrating their successful fifth anniversary with an exciting exhibition of recent works by Bruce Helander, one of South Florida’s bonafide art stars whose professional accomplishments are noteworthy, and his paintings and collages widely collected.

Helander is arguably one of the best known and respected collage artists in America. He often utilizes paper compositions as a blueprint for large-scale paintings on canvas, some of which are featured in the exhibition that opens in September at the spacious 5,000 sq. ft. warehouse space of Manolis Projects. The artist has exhibited his works in over 200 gallery and museum shows around the world, such as Dubai, Venice, Rome, London, Tokyo, Stockholm and Moscow as well as major cities in the U.S., including Manhattan, Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, Boston, Detroit, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among others.

Closer to his West Palm Beach base he has had solo exhibitions at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton Museum of Art, Coral Springs Museum of Art and the Norton Museum of Art, which acquired over twenty-six Helander works for their permanent collection. In 2014, Helander was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. He is a former White House Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts, a winner of the South Florida Cultural Consortium award for Professional Achievement and the recipient of four separate grants from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

His collages and paintings are represented in over fifty museum collections, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.

Bruce Helander received a BFA and MFA from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and later attended Yale and Harvard for journalism. As a writer he has published reviews for ARTnews, The Huffington Post and Sculpture magazine and is the former Editor-in-Chief of The Art Economist magazine. He also contributed works for The New Yorker magazine for many years. His most recent books include “Hunt Slonem - Bunnies” (Glitterati Press) and “Chihuly: An Artist Collects” (Abrams, Inc.).

Helander has a remarkable list of published reviews on his work, which have been in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Miami Herald, Art in America, ARTnews, The New Criterion, Ocean Drive and Palm Beach Illustrated, among others. Kenworth Moffett, former director of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, referred to Helander as a modern “Renaissance Man” and wrote that if there was a Pulitzer Prize for collage, Helander would surely win it. Tom Wolfe wrote that Helander “out-collages Braque!” Jed Perl, respected critic for The New Criterion, wrote in a glowing review titled “Successes” about a Helander Manhattan solo show, “…Judging by these works Helander is a camp-it-up comedian, a hopeless romantic and a gifted abstractionist.”

Helander’s collectors represent some of the most celebrated art patrons in America, including Andy Warhol muse Jane Holzer, Beth DeWoody, David Byrne, Kate and Henry Ford, Ronald Lauder, Jimmy Buffett, Nicole Miller, John Kluge (Metromedia), Mike Medavoy (producer, Rocky), Rawleigh Warner, Jr. (CEO, Mobil/Exxon) and Bill Butcher, former chairman of Chase Bank.

The works on display at Manolis Projects reflect the artist’s keen interest in and inspiration from vintage paper, advertisements and posters, whether in antique publications or even billboards. In much of Helander’s art a humorous common denominator is incorporated into each composition, and he utilizes images that originally were printed to catch your attention with fun subjects that bring the viewer back to the golden ages of illustration, where quality and composition were the primary goals of communication with an audience.

Helander has had a particular interest in documenting moments in American history with his own historic slant, such as the topping off of the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore under scaffolding, or the exciting debut of a gigantic helium-filled balloon in the shape of the original Mickey Mouse for the 1934 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He enjoys combining narrative abstraction, fragments of vintage advertisements, color harmony, cartoons, compositional juxtaposition and interpretive landscapes.

A memorable example of Helander’s successful blending of vintage advertising and a sense of humor is in his painting on view titled “Pleasure Bound,” which depicts a smiling American family of four waving as they zoom along a modern highway. The genesis of this image was discovered after the artist painstakingly researched raw material for a 2018 Los Angeles billboard competition, which reflected the joys of highway travel. In a remarkable bit of serendipity, he tracked down a billboard company to locate the original square papers that had to be pieced together in a grid and then glued to a billboard. In a rare discovery, the company’s warehouse had retained two large manila folders that housed thirty numbered squares on paper in each that Helander brought to life in his studio by cutting, pasting and re-painting. The original banner announced, “Pleasure Bound,” which advertised a drive-in outdoor theater particularly appropriate for a convertible in Southern California! Attached to the car is a stenciled “Miami or Bust,” prompted by a vintage post card. Helander also was inspired by his late friend James Rosenquist, who started out as a billboard painter prior to gaining fame as a contemporary artist.

Other works in this anniversary exhibition include large-scale paintings that were developed from small original collages and then transferred to canvas. One particularly memorable theme is appropriating fragments of artists’ works that he admires, such as Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso along with contemporary artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and incorporating them into compositions that are a new creative mix of images and ideas.

A good example is “Lady Mandolin,” where Helander has carefully crafted together a balance of a 1910 painting by Picasso with imagery from Lichtenstein’s “Crying Girl.” The contrast of two artists’ styles makes for a conceptual marriage of recognizable imagery in an impossible compositional circumstance. Another work on display in the Picasso series is titled “The Color of Money,” where Helander has painted a cubist head in shades of monetary green while a vintage cartoon character pitches an offering of greenbacks, subtly commenting on the huge sums of money works by Picasso continue to bring at auction. In the same series a work titled “Two Faces Have I” welds together a prominent Picasso profile with snippets of Lichtenstein Ben-Day dot compositions.

Another curious and delightfully playful painting is an appropriation of Warhol’s famous “Triple Elvis,” which Helander has recreated on a silvery background—relating to the ‘silver screen’—and was appropriated from a still and silkscreened in overlapping triplicate. Helander was an Elvis impersonator in high school, so he decided that a reversal retrospective of identity was in order as he cleverly placed his own face over Presley’s cowboy Hollywood persona. The result is an overwhelming and somewhat convincing depiction that this painting (created in the exact same size as the original) has an immediate reaction, which at first glance amazingly might just be the original painting now with a market value of $300 million. Helander follows the tradition of incorporating humorous juxtaposition by artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Richard Artschwager, Mel Bochner, Philip Guston’s late works and Robert Crumb.

Helander’s exhibition at Manolis Projects continues through Art Basel Miami Beach Week 2021.


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