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Weldon Kees, painter, poet, and filmmaker

Posted by Sebastian Smee  October 1, 2010 10:00 AM

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IMG_1268.jpgUntil his death by suicide in 1955, Weldon Kees was one of the most interesting creative figures in America. The author of six volumes of highly regarded poetry, he was also an artist who painted lyrical abstractions and made brilliant collages. Add to that his accomplishments as a filmmaker and critic, and you have a very interesting - and obviously fraught, given his end - bundle of creative energies. Despite success in the hot house of New York's art and poetry scene in the 1940s (his work hung alongside Picasso's in the Whitney Museum, he fraternized with the likes of Lionel Trilling and Edmund Wilson), he soon tired of it, and moved to San Francisco in 1950.
There are only a few dozen of his paintings and collages still extant, and Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge has gone to considerable lengths to reassemble what they can, borrowing from Kees's descendents, New York dealers, and private collectors (including the critic Hilton Kramer). I find second- or third-tier abstract expressionism as depressing as anyone, but Kees is better than that. Here, there are several stunning paintings, including this one (pictured), and three really superb collages. The gallery is also screening a wonderful black-and-white film by Kees: it shows footage of a hotel after it had been reduced to rubble. The pacing, the carefully calibrated spatial ambiguities, the awareness of form and texture and especially the choice of music make it an utter delight. Through October 10.

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