The tale of Max’s Kansas City is a mythical one. Opened by Mickey Ruskin in 1965, on a then quiet corner of Park Avenue South, the club quickly became the most beloved, riotous watering hole for 1960s creative kids (these days, they are canonized luminaries of minimalist and Pop art, grunge and rock music). In particular, it played second home and trysting place for the artists of the New York School. In a generous and genius move, Ruskin traded art for mounting drink tabs and, by the 1970s, Max’s was covered in works by John Chamberlain, Frank Stella, Dan Flavin, and many more.
Mark Borghi Fine Art’s 2014 Art Miami booth brings together work by three artist-friends who helped establish Max’s as the artists’ purlieu and impromptu art gallery that it was. Chamberlain, Stella, and Neil Williams were fixtures at the club (Williams even helped design it) and have become some the most important post-abstract expressionist and minimalist artists of that era. The three friends discussed art, shared studios, and generally influenced each other’s work—connections made clear in their unique but allied styles.
Le Rêve de d’Alembert (1974), one of Stella’s large-scale diptych paintings from his seminal “Concentric Squares” series, holds court at the center of the booth. The painting captures the artist’s signature style, which rejected painterly gesture to focus on pared-down compositions inspired by the basic units of architecture, geometry, and color. For this radical pursuit, he has been called the father of Minimalism (his work will be showcased in a career-spanning retrospective—one of the inaugural exhibitions for the Whitney Museum’s new building—in fall 2015). Stella has also been crowned the pioneer of the shaped canvas, a device also cultivated and augmented by Williams. Both were featured in the Guggenheim’s 1964 exhibition, “The Shaped Canvas,” which featured the original innovators of the vanguard trend.
Williams, a painter revered by his peers but surprisingly overlooked by the critics and collectors of the ’60s, homed in on the formal potential of canvases that pushed the boundaries of traditional rectangles. While maintaining Minimalism’s commitment to hard-edged geometry, he proposed hexagonal, polygonal, and trapezoidal contours that were sometimes symmetrical but more often not. His canvases include as many as 14 sides, creating irregular outlines that dictate the faceted compositions within. They recall elegant games of Tetris, diagrams for Technicolor gems, and Donald Judd’s sculptural boxes (if flattened, pieced together, and reconstituted as wall works).
For 10 years, starting in 1965, Williams shared a studio with Chamberlain, now famously known for his crushed metal sculptures that fused Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and Pop. While Stella and Williams explored the sculptural potential of painting, Chamberlain compounded painterly gesture into sculpture. In the same way that his studio mate celebrated shape, line, and color with equal enthusiasm, Chamberlain’s massive steel compositions balance a commitment to form with a reverence for color—blurring the boundaries between sculpture and painting and allying his work closely to that of his minimalist friends, collaborators, and fellow Max’s regulars.