Art, 64 pages
paper, ISBN 1-931236-41-0 $30.00
The FBI Files
Writing in The New York Times, Eleanor Heartney recently described the genesis of this unique series of paintings and collages:
For 26 years the F.B.I. watched the artist Arnold Mesches. Federal agents took note of his illustrations for political journals and magazines. They watched him march for peace and disarmament and demonstrate against Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee. They were also, during this time, compiling an 800 page dossier on him.
Among its documents were reports by informers on his movements in Los Angeles during the 1950’s and 60’s. Three years ago, when he obtained the files under the Freedom of Information Act, he discovered that some of the informants had been people he considered friends, colleagues and, in one case, a lover.
“Lots of the information they gathered is ridiculous,” he said. “They had people reporting the dates my kids were born, what cars I drove, who I was seeing—they even had students reporting on my lectures.”
Today he has turned these files into art and put them on view at P.S. 1 in the exhibition “The F.B.I. Files.” The art consists of colorful collages of news clippings, personal photographs, 50’s era images and hand-written and typed script, all surrounded by decorative painted borders. Mr. Mesches said the works were inspired by the mix of image and sacred text found in illuminated medieval manuscripts.
When Mr. Mesches began his F.B.I. collages in December 2000, he saw them as the culmination of a series of works on his personal history. The climate of distrust they evoked seemed a historical curiosity, relics of an era long past when government succumbed to paranoia and ran roughshod over citizen’s rights.
After September 11, 2001, however, the mentality evoked by Mesches’ “F.B.I. Files” no longer seems comfortably distant. Following its debut at P.S. 1, an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art, the exhibit has begun a national tour, through 2005. It will be seen in Los Angeles, Buffalo, New Orleans, Sarasota, and other cities. The exhibit was recently honored as one of the best art shows of the year by the Art Critics of America.
Arnold Mesches’ work has been seen in scores of solo and group exhibitions, and is in such public collections as the Albright-Knox Gallery, Buffalo; the High Museum, Atlanta; the Denver Art Museum; the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to name just a few. He is also renowned as a teacher of art, currently at the University of Florida.