Who is Llyn Foulkes and Why Does He Matter?

Artsy Editorial
Aug 19, 2013 11:31PM

Llyn Foulkes is not quite the enigma you’ve imagined. He brands himself as a “Zelig” of contemporary art, and yet while we’d love to imagine the artist as the nondescript, shadow-looming Woody Allen character, his position in the art world is much to the contrary. Since May, Foulkes’ work has been on view at the Punta della Dogana, Palazzo Grassi during the 55th Venice Biennale, and currently, fills the New Museum in a retrospective that—somehow—is the artist’s first New York museum exhibition in his 50-year career. Learn why you absolutely should be in the know when it comes to Llyn Foulkes.

1. Llyn Foulkes has always kept ahead of the curve.

Foulkes showed the year before Andy Warhol at Los Angeles’ visionary Ferus Gallery (the 1960s West Coast space famous for housing many of today’s biggest artist’s first shows). In the company of John Baldessari, Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, and Wallace Berman, Foulkes was named an early master of Pop—who, it should be noted, debuted his Cow painting three years prior to Warhol’s cattle prints. Perhaps this is a reason The New York Times recently named Foulkes “one of American art’s great originals”.

2. Although often branded as unknown, Foulkes’ work is award-winning and is included in the permanent collections of prominent museums.

Foulkes’ work is included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, MOCA Los Angeles, and LACMA—which means he has secured a place in art history. His career retrospective, currently on view at the New Museum, was organized and originally displayed by the Hammer Museum and will soon travel to Museum Kurhaus Kleve in Germany. The artist has also brought home his share of prizes—in 1963, he was the first recipient of LACMA’s Young Talent Award, and in ’67 he was awarded first prize at the Paris Biennale. To name a few other feats, Foulkes participated in the 2011 Venice Biennale, Documenta 13 (where he also performed—more on that later) and the seminal “Helter Skelter” exhibition at the MOCA in ’92—one of the most provocative and talked-about exhibitions of the ’90s.

3. Fun fact: He is an accomplished musician, and once appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

In 1973, Foulkes formed his own band, Llyn Foulkes and The Rubber Band, which appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1974. Since then, Foulkes has performed with his homemade multi-instrument apparatus, “The Machine,” which you can witness on film, at right.

“LLYN FOULKES” is on view at the New Museum through September 1st, 2013.

Explore the exhibition on Artsy.

Artsy Editorial