Art Crusading for Leonard Nelson
By R. Brent Byrne
Champion Leonard Nelson & Philadelphia School
I don't think that I'm quite the crusader that I've been called in Philadelphia. I am one man simply standing up for a "trailblazing" artist -- the artist that I happen to champion, Leonard Nelson (1912-1993). Leonard Nelson had his acclaimed style of American color-field painting appear in two debut exhibitions, at two of Philadelphia's most prestigious art museums in 2003 and 2012, without his name being mentioned or credited. Essentially, Nelson's art was exhibited through the eyes of other artists that came after him, that were art professor colleagues of his during the 1970s in Center City. There is little academic support for what these two museums did. In fact, their curators had gone on record supporting Nelson even before these debut exhibitions ever took place. It's the museums’ top executives that I target. It's they that I crusade against. I caught them knowingly selling out Nelson's acclaimed color-field painting achievements to connected gallerists and collectors pushing their own profit-seeking agendas. Money and politics bested Nelson’s life’s work… which I find to be a sham.
It should come as no surprise that this sort of railroading happens in Philadelphia. Anyone that knows the Albert Barnes story, or has seen the documentary film, "Art of the Steal," would readily agree. In my story, the Philadelphia art establishment embraced Leonard Nelson's style of American color-field painting, just not him as being its originator. They first awarded it to their friend, Warren Rohrer (1927-1995), in 1995. Rohrer is represented by the esteemed Philadelphia gallery, Locks Gallery. Ms. Marian Locks was called the "doyenne" of Philadelphia art galleries, by Philadelphia Inquirer Art Critic, Victoria Donohoe, in 1994. She was a savvy political type of lady. She served on the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Board, and chaired the Governor's Art in Residence Program. She sold Rohrer paintings to a number of trustees at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Never mind the fact that her artist copied Mark Rothko, Agnes Martin, and Jules Olitski before stealing from mine in 1977. To her and her co-conspirators, Rohrer was an "honest" painter.
Achieving originality as a painter is not easy. It's achievable, but rarely achieved. It's a must-have for debut exhibition at an elite art museum. It is this prerequisite that serves as the basis for Nelson's demise. The two painters that won debut exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2003) and the Woodmere Art Museum (2012) were billed as originals. Crediting Nelson for their painting styles would have surely sapped their chances at exhibition, and sunk their ships. Nelson, however, was an easy target to steal from, and the Philadelphia art insiders promoting Rohrer (and Murray Dessner) believed it. They didn't foresee the likes of me confronting them with a spray-can labeled, "Philadelphia School" – Philadelphia’s first ever avant-garde or artist movement, led by Leonard Nelson.
I trust that you will find my video thought provoking. It provides a seldom seen glimpse into the business of art, and how debut exhibitions are sometimes decided behind the scenes. I don't proclaim to be an art authority. I want to win back what Leonard Nelson had stolen from him. To this end, I accept superficially the moniker, “Art Crusader."
Thank you very much for listening to my story. I invite any and all inquiries.