ARTIST STATEMENT BY ROBERT TANNEN
My first years were spent on the beaches of and near Coney Island. My family homes were in Seagate, a small private community adjacent to the boardwalk of Coney Island. I first began making art at three years of age. I built my first boat at twelve, and pulled debris together on the beach for my first larger scale constructions at 13.
My father had a rare book store on 9th Street in Lower Manhattan, so I was familiar with the early development of the 10th Street art movement that became the foundation for American contemporary art. I first showed work in a 10th Street gallery, Brata, at 18.
When I talked with another 10th Street artist, Joan Mitchell, she told me to “come back and see me when you have more experience”. We were both in a group show at the Tanager Gallery on 10th Street. The painter Pat Passlof invited me to become a member of the March Gallery in 1957, where I exhibited beach debris sculpture.
I attended Pratt Institute on a G.M. scholarship, later taught art there as I earned my Masters of Fine Arts. My art at the time included wrapped objects, piled beach debris, and mop drawings. My teacher and mentor at Pratt, William Katavolos introduced me to the importance of the urban design and planning of cities.
While in high school I noticed too many empty shells on the beach of oysters, mussels and clams and their disappearance from the jetties of Seagate. The 1947 hurricane destroyed many mature trees around our home, and in 1954 Hurricane Hazel destroyed my wooden boat I loved. Thus began a lifelong concern about what would later be called Climate Change.
At 19, I became a father, soon of three children, packed up and became a member of the founding faculty of an experimental college in New Hampshire, Franconia College where I was able to indulge my wide ranging interests through courses I taught on everything from ecology to film making, architecture, and philosophy to the art of Marilyn Monroe.
My next migration was to Cambridge, Massachusetts where I worked with R. Buckminster Fuller and William Wainwright, and took the helm of Lazy Eight, a collective for inventors. It was there I met Dr. Robert Burden, (father of the artist Chris Burden), Harvard professor of environmental engineering who, in 1969, sent me to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to help guide the planning of its redevelopment after Camille.
Hurricanes and environmental challenges and disasters remain a core thread in my life. To be specific, attitudes of human abuse and suppression of other forms of life and nature permeate my thinking and art.
I have archived deceased animals in plastic bags of formaldehyde, created sculptures out of trophy models of fish, filled aquariums with bricks and fish to demonstrate the crush of crowded urban landscapes, created wood furniture for trees, created maps of relative land elevations in 68 counties facing the entire Gulf Coast, created warehouse wall length murals evoking the elevations along the entire coast, which I created in Rauschenberg’s studio in his artists’ retreat on Captiva Island, FL. I create installations with concrete blocks, plywood and sheet metal models of shotgun houses, and hanging “wallaces” made with river rocks, shells and objects under water in bottles. Recently, I filled the main gallery space at the Hilliard Museum in Lafayette, Louisiana with 60 4’ x 4’ boxes that visitors could rearrange to shape new cities as we migrate away from rising oceans.
My day life of urban planning has long been in sync with my art work. I led planning projects that led to the site and building of the Crescent Connection and the unique circular ramp that prevented destruction of the Coliseum square area. I led the identification and planning of our 70+ historic neighborhoods and the creation of the Historic Districts Landmark Commission. I sited the Arena next to the Superdome; facilitated Riverwalk and New Orleans Center meant to be the anchors of an unrealized promenade between the two; secured the Pick N Save distribution center in Almonaster Michoud Industrial District, now home to the soon to be renamed Dixie Beer plant. I tried to design a man on horseback monument to honor Mayor Moon Landrieu, however he said, “Bob, very nice, but I don’t know how to ride”. It would have had an umbrella to keep pigeon droppings off Moon.
My wife Jeanne Nathan and I are proud of our role as the founders, with friends, of the Contemporary Arts Center that became the catalyst for the development of the Arts District and more opportunities for our living artists of all disciplines. I am delighted to be showing current work at the newly relocated Octavia Gallery in the Arts District.
This Exhibition “Why Red?” at the Octavia Art Gallery
My work here is a continuation of the themes I have worked with all my life. The utilitarian appliances sprayed in the color red, considered to be an indicator of extreme danger, as well as power and passion, warning of the escalating threat of global warming, and are symbolic of continued attitudes of human supremacy that is endangering the future of all species, nature and the planet Earth itself.
The reliefs made of hangers take a “throw away” steel wire object that wastes the earth’s minerals and recycle them into wall sculptures. The hangers also serve as hanging devices for calligraphic drawings made with crow feathers, brushes and ink. These drawings are influenced in part by Zen art that promote man’s oneness with nature.
The collage of images of my homes and places through life provide the contexts within which I lived with families, thought, created, made and displayed my work.
Generally my art reflects my philosophy and ideas rather than a focus on aesthetics, materials or artifice. I hope to call attention to important issues of our times and future. I hope my work in your home may not decorate. Rather it will prompt your own thinking, inventing, creating and making. Most of my exhibitions have been collaborative with other artists, musicians, creatives, and the community. I hope that will be the case for you, too.
OBSERVATIONS ABOUT MY WORK
“Robert Tannen: Artist as Visual Philosopher” D. Eric Bookhardt
“Tannen’s desire is to make us think about the choices we might make if we were forced to determine to best use of resources to live more economically.”
Will Sutton, The Advocate columnist
"Tannen is consistently one of the most outside-the-box thinker I have known.” Michael Dobbins, Georgia Tech Professor of Architecture, Co-Director of Planning for the Crescent City Connection Bridge with Tannen.
“Bob Tannen is one of the brilliant artists of our age.” Mark di Suvero, sculptor
“Bob Tannen, ‘Citizen Artist’.” Al Nodal, Former Commissioner of Culture, Los Angeles
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Copyright 2019 Robert C. Tannen. Website by Matthew Foreman