Neil Jenney

NEIL JENNEY
Morning, 2012
Acrylic on canvas with painted wood frame
18 x 32 inches (45.7 x 81.3 cm)

​Photo by Rob McKeever


Idealism is unavoidable.
—Neil Jenney

Neil Jenney first began selling his Abstract Expressionist paintings in Boston in 1965 with the help of two teenage dealers, Joanne Duffy and Nancy Haigh (later an Academy Award-winning Hollywood set designer). He moved to New York in 1966 after Boston galleries refused to exhibit his sculpture. In the spring of 1967 the legendary dealer Richard Bellamy discovered and showed Jenney’s “linear sculptures” on Madison Avenue as part of a group exhibition with Jean Arp, Richard Artschwager, Walter De Maria, Bruce Nauman, and Richard Serra. In 1968 Jenney created a series of sculptures made with found materials. Termed “theatrical” or “environmental,” these works eventually morphed into a structure of “these things and those things relating.” He showed some of these pieces at Galerie Rudolf Zwirner, Cologne, in November 1968.

Upon returning to the United States that fall, Jenney discovered an art scene soaked in Photorealism. Feeling that this was a second-generation Pop art solution that was “a bad idea done pretty,” the artist decided to paint “good ideas done badly.” His Bad Paintings, which involved “the relationship of things to things,” occupied his career from 1969 to 1970. In late 1970 Jenney decided that a more interesting challenge was Good Painting, and he has produced such works since 1971.

Jenney believes that there are only two styles in art, realism and abstraction, both equally ancient and existing side-by-side, like the Egyptian pyramids and the head of Queen Nefertiti, ever since. The realist movement of today, of which he is a part, has, he suggests, two parts: those who insist that line be intuitively generated, like the Greeks, and that color be atmospheric, like the Impressionists; and those who prefer the line and color of cameras and computers.

Neil Jenney was born in 1945 in Torrington, Connecticut, and raised in Westfield, Massachusetts. His work is in major permanent collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Exhibitions include a retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum, University of California (1981, traveled to Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; and Kunsthalle Basel); Whitney Biennial (1969, 1973, 1981, 1987);  “New Image Painting,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1978); and “Bad Painting,” New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (1978). Jenney was part of the group exhibition, “Representations of America” (1977–78, organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco for the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia; the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg, Russia; and The Palace of Art, Minsk, Belarus), and at the time he was the youngest American artist to have shown in the post-war Soviet Union.