Bob Thompson: So let us all be citizens at 52 Walker, New York

Installation view, Bob Thompson: So let us all be citizens, April 21–July 8, 2023, 52 Walker, New York. Courtesy 52 Walker, New York.

This article first was published in May 2023 via White Hot Magazine, New York

Robert “Bob” Thompson (1937-1966) lived for brief twenty-eight years and yet, his bewitching, vibrant solo exhibition that just opened at 52 Walker last week shows a solid body of work of an artist who lived through many influences, but has successfully resolved his anxieties leaving a recognizable and distinct perception. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky, studied education and later art. He was connected to Sam Gillian, but also to jazz legends of the day Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, Ornette Coleman, Milford Graves. Thompson received a grant to study in Paris, Ibiza and Rome. Here he was able to observe and rework the great European figurative tradition. What we have on view in Tribeca is his personal vision of unlearned classicism and an individual reality that takes on well-known compositions, yet revitalizes them through striking, mystical, beings. 

Tintoretto, Poussin, Uccello, Watteau, Goya are all present, but Thompson manages to insert his figures without making this intrusion farcical or callous. His abstract human figures of scarlet red, lemony yellow or deep magenta create their own crescendos within the balanced compositions, not dissimilar to the principles of jazz variation he so often has listened to while living in New York. WM

Bob Thompson, An Allegory, 1964. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Thomas. Bellinger 72.137 © Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY