Modern & Contemporary Art

Taboo: The Work of Joe Coleman

Coming to prominence in the East Village during the 1980s, Joe Coleman stood in stark contrast to the post-Pop, Neo-Geo and re-appropriation art of the day, making him an outsider within a scene of outsiders. In addition, Coleman’s seminal performance pieces were equally confrontational and intense, starring Joe as equal parts carnival barker and mad scientist. Perhaps most notable was Coleman’s incendiary performance at The Kitchen in 1981, in which he performed as his frighteningly bizarre alter ego, Professor Mombooze-o, which overwhelmed the attendees, many of whom quickly fled from their seats.

Coleman’s work largely exists on its own plane, in that it defies easy inclusion into the Contemporary Art movements of his day -- eschewing Conceptualism and instead showing a reverence for such artists as James Ensor and Otto Dix. Completely divorced from the current ideology of artist-as-brand, represented by artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, Coleman paints in quiet solitude, employing techniques and practices much more in common with Old Masters, like his hero, Hieronymus Bosch. Coincidentally, Coleman’s work was shown alongside Bosch at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 2001.

A rare early work on Masonite by Joe Coleman, The Geek (DoyleNext, Lot 16) reflects the artist’s lifelong passion for the taboo culture of the carnival sideshow. A brilliant draftsman, Coleman references Outsider Art and Underground Comix in this work, as he has done throughout his career, always exploring the esoteric in an anthropological sense.

In the decades since creating The Geek, Coleman’s work has only advanced in complexity and scale. Using a jeweler’s loupe and brushes containing as few as a single hair, Coleman may only complete one square inch of a painting per day. As the scale of his works have increased over the years, most notably in his life-sized portraits of his wife, Whitney, and himself (both shown at the Jeffrey Deitch/Larry Gagosian Unrealism show from 2015 in Miami), the amount of minute detail packed into the image plane has equally grown in dramatic fashion. His autobigraphical works often include a remarkable amount of text, circulating around the central figures, filling in the gaps with arcane quotes and anecdotes.

The Geek comes from the Collection of Joachim Neugroschel, an early notable collector of Coleman’s work. Neugroschel, a fixture on the downtown art scene, was a noted translator of literature. Translating over 200 books from an assortment of languages, Neugroschel was renowned in his field, with his translations of Herman Hesse’s Siddharta and the short stories of Marcel Proust being just a few of his many major accomplishments. As evidenced by his early support of Coleman, Neugroschel was a visionary collector who bucked the prevailing trends of the day. In a testament to Neugroschel’s prescience as a collector, Joe Coleman’s work is now included in the collections of Johnny Depp, Jim Jarmusch and Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as a number of prominent museums and institutions worldwide.

We sincerely thank Mr. Coleman for his confirmation of the authenticity of this work.

Portrait of specialist Angelo Madrigale
SVP/Director of Paintings / Director of Contemporary Art
Modern & Contemporary Art
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