Skinny's 21, 1961 signed with initials and dated 'B.A.B. / 1961' (lower center) oil on canvas 42 x 40in. (106.7 x 101.6cm)
PROVENANCE Stars For Freedom Art Auction, Los Angeles, 1964 Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
LITERATURE L. Lippard, Pop Art, New York, 1966, no. 126 (illustrated in color p. 141) S. Wilson, Pop, London, 1974, no. 26 (illustrated in color p. 28)
EXHIBITED Los Angeles, Ferus Gallery, An Exhibition of Recent Work by Billy Al Bengston, November 13-December 2, 1961 Milwaukee, Milwaukee Art Center, Pop Art in the American Tradition, April 9-May 9, 1965 Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Billy, November 26, 1968-January 12, 1969, no. 24 (illustrated) New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, American Pop Art, April 6-June 16, 1974, no. 26 (illustrated p. 31) Berkeley, University Art Museum, Made in USA: An Americanization in Modern Art, The '50s & '60s, April 4-June 21, 1987, no. 169 (illustrated in color p. 174) This exhibition traveled to Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Billy Al Bengston: Paintings of Three Decades, May 14June 26, 1988, no. 4 (illustrated p. 24) This exhibition traveled to The Oakland Museum, Oakland; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii. Newport, Newport Harbor Art Museum, LA Pop in the Sixties, April 20-July 9, 1989, no. 22 This exhibition traveled to Washington, Henry Art Gallery; Palm Springs, Palm Springs Desert Museum; New York, Neuberger Museum; Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum.
This lot is accompanied by a copy of the exhibition catalog Billy, designed by Ed Ruscha, and written by James Monte, Toyo Press, Los Angeles, 1969.
The 1960s was a riotous decade for the Los Angeles art scene, with artists like Billy Al Bengston, Ed Kienholz and Ed Ruscha working independently of New York influences, and putting Southern California on the map. The Ferus Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard was at the center of the commotion, and in 1961, the gallery asked Billy Al Bengston to create a solo show. Bengston produced over a dozen works for the exhibit that focused on the parts of a motorcycle he had recently purchased, and one 'complete rendition of the motorcycle titled, Skinny's 21, a reference to the former owner... and the twenty-one cubic inch engine' (K. Tsujimoto, Pop in the Sixties, Berkeley, p. 54). The artist's choice of subject matter was reflective of a rebellious, youthful spirit that was proliferated by popular culture in films and other media in the 60s.
Bengston is an artist who is not easy to pin down, having produced a diverse body of work throughout his career, but his paintings depicting the different parts of Skinny's 21 gained national recognition and were strongly associated with the Pop Art movement. In Skinny's 21, Bengston created a very precise depiction of his motorcycle, with thinly applied oil paint and minimized visibility of the handling of the strokes, and with his attention to the subtle details of each part that comprised the overall bike. While motorcycles would remain influential in Bengston's personal life and in his art, the subject matter was a 'momentary detour in his career' (K. Tsujimoto, op.cit., p. 55).