Gallery 98’s recent acquisition of a large collection of books and ephemera from the library of art critic Edit deAk (1948-2017) brings to light many interesting art world stories. One example that stands out — in fact, there is a whole box devoted to it — is the remarkable success of Francesco Clemente, a leader in the return to figurative painting in the 1980s which is variously grouped under the labels “Neo-Expressionism,” “New Imagery” and the “Transavantgarde.”
In a period when artists received unprecedented media hype, Clemente stood out thanks to his photogenic good looks, stylish dress and social ease. His art was also attention grabbing. Working easily in a wide range of media from watercolors to frescos, his subjects included self-portraits, symbols from various world cultures, as well as, psychologically charged images that hinted at sexual fetishes and violence.
NY Times art critic Roberta Smith reviewing a Clemente exhibition in 1990 wrote, “of all the art stars to emerge in the early 1980s, Francesco Clemente may be the most genuinely starlike.” His work was soon on display at all the top galleries: Gian Enzo Sperone (Italy), Bruno Bischofberger (Switzerland), Anthony D’Orffay (London), Mary Boone (New York), and many others. Gallery 98’s Clemente collection includes many key announcement cards, some of which are particularly collectible because they feature portraits of Clemente by Robert Mapplethorpe and other top photographers. We also have a full collection of Clemente catalogues and books, that are works of art in themselves because of Clemente’s personal involvement in their creation.