Exhibition of works by Ed Shostak and his alter ego, Rose Royale on view at David Richard Gallery
March 29, 2021
NEW YORK, NY.- David Richard Gallery is presenting Ed Shostak / Rose Royale: A Queer Perspective From Postminimalism to Social Practice, Selected Works: 1963 – 2020, an exhibition curated by Isaac Aden and David Eichholtz. This is the gallery’s first major exhibition for the artist Ed Shostak who passed away in April of 2020 from the Covid-19 virus. It is unusual to uncover an artist of his pedigree for which so little is publicly known after establishing himself amidst the visual arts most notable institutions and exhibitions, such as his inclusion in the first 1973 Biennial Exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Shostak cloistered himself in his downtown loft relentlessly working and opting for a less mainstream practice. This exhibition is the first look at many of his late works.
For those who are interested in reconsidering the parallel arcs of art history, examining and expanding the boundaries of the established canon of Post War art, Shostak’s work will be a revelation. His work addressed so many of the known formal and conceptual concerns from that period, but through a queer lens. Eventually, he abandoned convention, favoring a more expansive view of the possibilities of what an artist’s practice could include by embracing a queer Social Practice and advocacy for the transgender community, a cause far bigger than himself.
The exhibition, Ed Shostak / Rose Royale: A Queer Perspective From Postminimalism to Social Practice, Selected Works from 1963 – 2020, is on view March 24 through April 16, 2021 at David Richard Gallery located at 211 East 121 Street, New York, New York 10035, P: 212-882-1705 and everyone can interact and participate in the exhibition in several different ways: 1) in person and safely socially distanced while wearing a face covering; 2) privately by appointment; and 3) online at the following link: https://www.davidrichardgallery.com/exhibit/534-ed-shostak-rose-royale to view the checklist, digital catalog, 360 degree video and installation images as well as critical video discussions as they are posted.
The current exhibition coincides with the one-year anniversary of Shostak’s death. It offers a broad introduction to Shostak’s practice to be followed by three additional solo exhibitions, which will focus on the different periods of his artworks and personal life.
This presentation is not a retrospective of his artwork. It is comprised of completed sculptural works, studies and documentary images from the early part of his career as well as later career works that include drawings, performance, photographs and film. Collectively, these works illustrate and map two key aspects and threads of continuity throughout Ed Shostak’s artistic career and life.
The first thread is Shostak’s deconstructive process of breaking down complex concepts and forms into the essential elements—capturing the essence—then using those shapes as a language to create something new, not yet realized—a metamorphosis with a corresponding transformation of thought.
That deconstructive process links to the second important thread throughout his artwork, which was a fascination with voids—the negative spaces. He would take the reductive shapes resulting from his process and assemble them in various ways to see what was created between the voids, between the defined and understood shapes and forms—that which was known—and ultimately, and realized later in his life—that which was considered acceptable. Quite possibly, early on, Shostak realized that he was living in the voids and was trying to find a way and language to both explore and express himself in that space. The assemblage of seemingly unrelated bits and pieces of shapes was both a process and an endgame in his many diverse media: sketches, sculptures and drawings as well as in his social practice (including his wigs). Those reappropriated shapes were the visual language that tied every aspect of his artwork together.
The exhibition posits that everything in Shostak’s work is full of meaning, everything relates and connects one to the other. The artist thought carefully about every detail, nothing was a coincidence and all of his work, including his later Social Practice, was by design.
While the imagery may have changed over the decades, the exhibition is organized to map these threads regardless of the subject matter, form or media. In fact, it becomes apparent that his personal life and art practice were inextricable—one and the same—and ultimately, the artist became both the subject and the art. Shostak had gone full circle from his childhood performances in the family living room to navigating the commercial art world as a gay man and then to activism and politics to become not only his alter ego, but to be himself—transgender.
Included in the current exhibition will be early formalist works from the 1960’s through the early 1980s. These include minimalist drawings and sculptures. Later, during that period the sculptures evolved into eccentric and layered abstractions, including sprawling scatter works and lattice-based arrangements that flirted with pattern and decoration as well as sexually suggestive elements. Fifty years of hindsight reveals deeper readings of and inner connections between his work that considered and challenged heteronormative models while layering in queer theory. Such considerations can help rethink these art historical periods and the artists who dominated the discussions around them.
In the 80’s Shostak's work became more political adopting themes surrounding AIDS/HIV activism. His work also began to deal more overtly with gay themes, slang and imagery. The work became more openly playful including figuration, double entendre with an emphasis on humor and symbolism. The works of this period were primarily characterized by large drawings rendered from collages made from reappropriated source materials as well as provocative text.
By the 90s Shostak’s art practice was primarily dominated by the social practice. Shostak had transitioned to Rose Royale and became an active member of the New York trans community through performances, activism, photography and film making—each a discrete but interrelated body of artwork waiting to be presented. This period offers a plethora of output and was his most productive period. This is in part due to the fact that his life and work had truly consolidated into a solitary practice. The works from this period will be represented by: wigs (which he named and titled like any other sculpture) from his collection, gowns, posters, photography and examples of his film making.
Edwin Shostak, an American artist was born August 23, 1941 in Bronx, New York to Jewish parents and he died April 8, 2020. According to his sister, in the 1950s, Ed would perform in drag for his family and as an adult gay man in the 60s and 70s, his life was full of challenges. Shostak’s world changed in the early sixties when he moved to lower Manhattan and studied at The Copper Union.
In the 1960s and 70s, Shostak was known for his sculptures as he pursued a fairly traditional commercial path in the art world. In the 1980s, his practice expanded into large drawings that included figuration, abstraction and text that further expanded into performance, activism and a social practice. While he explored formal issues of postmodernism, his artmaking became more subversive, full of dual meanings and double entendre, he asked more questions than he answered. Shostak used Geometric Abstraction, Hard Edge Abstraction and Post-Minimalism as a platform on which he cleverly overlayed Queer Theory to both challenge the norms and provoke a new and different discourse.
There was much early success and critical recognition as Shostak’s works were included in the very important and first 1973 Biennial Exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Grand Palais, Paris, The Chrysler Museum, The Delaware Museum of Art, The Jacksonville Museum of Art, The Art Museum of South Texas, Sculpture Center, New York, and The School of Visual Arts, New York as well as many other colleges and universities. Shostak’s first solo exhibition was at the Fischbach Gallery, then he showed at Bykert Gallery and Leo Castelli. Later, he was represented by the Holly Solomon Gallery and had several solo exhibitions. His work has been placed in many important collections including the collections of architect Philip Johnson and Holly Solomon. His work was reviewed by notable journalists including, Grace Gluek, Donald Goddard and Barbra Rose. Shostak was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.
In the 1960s, Shostak's work was minimalist with wall sculptures and columnar volumetric works comprised of reductive blocky shapes with angled, clipped and notched corners, still others with attachments for support, and all painted with singular colors beginning with primaries and evolving to more desaturated colors. The related sketches and drawings were even more reductive and flat (frequently on grid paper) and often conveying volume and illusory depth. His fascination with the illusory qualities of his art continued throughout each of his sculptural series. During those early decades there was subtle flirtation with sexually suggestive shapes and innuendo in the sculpture and drawings, almost a code for a targeted audience in the know.
From the late 60s and through the mid-80s, Shostak’s work became more complex, layered and derived from his deconstructed shapes of botanical forms (leaves, flowers, seeds) and paisleys (teardrop symbols for flowers and fruits in many diverse cultures). His sculptures grew into large sprawling floor pieces and corner installations made of construction and industrial materials; still geometric, but with the addition of vector geometry, circular and curvilinear shapes, botanical references and elaborate lattice structures. Over time, the materials were more refined including wood turned on a lathe, spheres, smooth and reflective metals (brass, steel, copper) and leather. The major sculpture series from the 1960s through the mid-1980s included: Scatter, Paisley, Pedestal and Forest works.
By the late 70s, the sculptures became elegant and intricate with well thought out and deliberate internal reflections (also providing an intense illusory quality) between the contrasting metals. The corresponding drawings on paper were also becoming more complex, and like the sculptures, both were based upon layers and layers of circular shapes that focused only on the curvilinear shapes resulting from the overlaps and those formed in the voids between other circular shapes. He also created mirror images within such drawings using diverse materials, including metallic pencils of silver and gold, as though one half of the drawing was reflecting the other. Perhaps his interest in reflections at the time (just like illusory reading of shapes) was a metaphor for his own internal searches, living in the voids, grappling with his own and different reflections that were dependent upon the audience that was viewing him, or his artwork. It seemed as though the struggle between his gay male and transgender selves—straddling 2 worlds and 2 different lives—was not only manifest in, but became his artwork.
Shostak’s drawing practice also expanded both in the number, scale and subject matter through the 1980s. They were filled with implicit and explicit figuration, texts and lyrical abstractions. Many were in protest and mourning the HIV/AIDS tragedy that confronted him daily as well as his own metamorphosis and transgender transition. The largest banners on paper were narrative, like a scroll or diary mapping the evolution of inspirations and influences throughout his life. Several such banners each spanned three decades in the making where he actually made additions (or entries?) the last week of his life.
The transition to activism and Shostak’s very personal immersive Social Practice was influenced by HIV and AIDS in the gay community in the 80s. The star of that activism was Rose Royale (after Duchamp’s Rose Sélavy), visible at numerous parades, political rallies and media engagements. Her performances dazzled as she was the subject of an expansive body of photographs (professionally shot as a document) that chronicled her many wigs, makeup and dresses as well as her closest friends and confidants and their social interactions. Rose mentored many young people in the transgender community, listened to their stories and plights as they navigated their new lives while thoughtfully capturing those discussions on extensive and detailed audio and video recordings. The individual recordings were montaged to create fascinating footage on a variety of topics that trigger a wide range of emotions in the viewer. Shostak’s advocacy for the transgender community was the heart and soul of his Social Practice, it was his life in which he was the subject and had become the art. Isaac Aden, who knew Rose and wrote in the obituary that he prepared in 2020, “Shostak’s courage in the face of adversity and his acceptance of himself fostered a strength, which allowed for gentle conversation, with which he mentored and eased the plight of those who were fortunate enough to have known him.”