Art Basel Miami:
Artists at Max's Kansas City 1965 — 1974: Heteroholics and Some Women Too
Willem De Kooning
As the Cedar Tavern played a role in the formation of abstract expressionism, Max’s Kansas City galvanized a younger generation of artists from when it opened in 1965 to when it closed its doors in 1974. This exhibition will feature the amazing diversity of artists from every major reference point in the New York art world of the period: Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptual and Performance Art ‑ a creative efflorescence rarely seen in art history.
Max’s Kansas City was a social venue where ideas could be thrown out, tested and formed. But a salient distinction was signaled to the art world at Max’s as important new art was installed; and the art was a “permanent installation,” as Donald Judd phrased it, rather than a changing show. John Chamberlain’s galvanized iron sculpture imposed itself dramatically at the entrance while Dan Flavin’s bold red florescent sculpture defined the corner of the back room and cast a glow over the entire space. Frank Stella’s large abstract painting dominated the side wall, while the frame of Dorothea Rockburne’s folded paper collage gathered nicotine above the bar and Forrest (Frosty) Myers’ laser beam ran from the front window to a mirror on the juke box and then across the entire restaurant to the back room.
The commitment at Max’s to the current generation was communicated and understood by everyone in the bar, and it prompted the idea that this was the locus of serious art talk and thought. At the front of Max’s stood owner Mickey Ruskin. Regulars included John Chamberlain, James Rosenquist, Larry Rivers, Larry Poons, and Robert Rauschenberg.
In the back room Andy Warhol held court with his entourage of film and factory people including Brigid Berlin, snapping Polaroid pictures and making audio-tapes of conversation. Hard drinking “heavy hitters,” in contrast to the clientele in the back room, gave off an aura of testosterone in the front room. The virtual hegemony of men there prompted the appellation “hetero-holics.” Women artists nevertheless were seen at Max’s, including Dorothea Rockburne, Lynda Benglis, and Alice Aycock.
Loretta Howard Gallery and Nyehaus have joined in collaboration for Art Basel Miami Beach 2011 to bring this exhibition, with curatorial accuracy, of the art that hung in Max’s and the of the artists that traded with Mickey for bar tabs. Increasingly, this work and this group of artists are being seen to rank with most extraordinary periods of history in centuries.