May 5 – June 20, 2020
ClampArt is pleased to present “Bruce Sargeant (1898-1938): Private Paintings”—curated by New York artist Mark Beard (Bruce Sargeant’s great nephew).
In 1928, the life of painter Bruce Sargeant was poised for a newfound period of prosperity and success. Sargeant’s father sadly passed away two years prior, but his death set in motion the sale of the family business, which allowed the young man a fixed allowance and the freedom to pursue his art unencumbered. He began exhibiting his canvases more regularly, both in fashionable London and locally in South Yorkshire. By 1929, Sargeant set out for the artistic epicenter of Paris in pursuit of advancing his career and finding love. While in The City of Light, the painter attended life drawing sessions at the Académie Julian and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, while navigating a stormy affair with a French avocat. Eventually forced to terminate the relationship with the volatile and jealous Frenchman, Sargeant sailed for New York City in 1930, where he pursued contact with the Ashcan School of painters, notably John Sloan and George Luks (as the group’s leader, Robert Henri, died the previous year). Sargeant soon rented a small cottage in the Berkshires north of the city, but the American stock market crash of 1929 quickly began to take its toll on his inheritance. It was during this period of relative isolation and in the face of a frighteningly uncertain future that Sargeant’s work became more imaginary and illicit.
In canvases such as “Locker Room Scene—Charlie in Three States of Undress,” the artist experiments with the concept of narrative time. Not unlike Marcel Duchamp’s then already infamous painting “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” of 1912, Sargeant simultaneously portrays the same figure multiple times in different positions surrounded by a group of other athletes from the gymnasium. The effect is one of a description of movement or the passage of moments.
In other works completed during Sargeant’s lockdown in the remote cabin, his artistic mind started to explore the fantastical world of the circus as seen in the monumental canvas “Ringleader and Dutiful Pupil Under the Big Top.” While the artist never abandoned his adherence to live models, through the use of costumes and props his paintings began to enter the realm of fantasy and role play (see “Nude Fencer in Powdered Peruke with Épée” also included in the show).
And it was from this point that the artist’s works began to explore deeper, more explicit levels of sexuality. Whereas Sargeant’s earlier works idealized the young male form in coy tableaux of innocent homosociality, the new double-sided paintings of the early 1930s are explicitly homosexual for the first time.
Mark Beard, a contemporary artist residing in New York City, has long known of the existence of these blatantly risqué works by his great uncle, but has waited until now to share with the general public this previously unseen side of the painter’s oeuvre. Having devoted more than two decades of his life to researching and collecting the work of Bruce Sargeant, Mark Beard was cautious about revealing the more libidinous and shocking compositions, which bring Sargeant’s artistic output closer to controversial figures such as the Frenchmen Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet, as well as his fellow countryman Duncan Grant (whom he may well have known during his years experimenting as a writer in Bloomsbury in the early 1920s).
Mark Beard (1956-) was born and raised in Salt Lake City. His portraits, nudes, bronzes, and handcrafted books have been exhibited worldwide, and he has also designed more than twenty theatrical sets in New York, London, and Germany. His works are in numerous museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; and the Princeton, Harvard, and Yale University Museums, among many others.
ClampArt will be sharing the exhibition virtually via the gallery’s website and social media (Instagram/@clampartnyc and Facebook/@ClampArt). One artwork will be revealed every few days with the intention of mounting a physical exhibition at the gallery’s brick-and-mortar space when the COVID-19 lockdown ends in New York City.