PARK CITY — For artist Peter Max, no surface is off-limits as a possible medium of artistic expression.
At 78, Max has a signature style that marks the surface of items such as airplanes, buildings and footballs. The contemporary pop artist and designer’s multimedia works often include American symbols and popular icons such as the American flag and the Statue of Liberty with a bright, bold flair.
Now, for the first time, a retrospective of Max’s works is on display at the Old Towne Gallery in Park City. The selection, curated by Lesley Smith, was specially crafted for Park City.
The Old Towne Gallery, owned and operated by Colby Larsen, was thrilled to partner with Max to bring this collection to Park City. Startlingly different in many ways from the art scene in Salt Lake City, Park City has amassed a reputation as a premier art hub for art collectors from around the country. The art showcased along the city’s Main Street appeals to locals and tourists and hosts a wide range of diverse styles, methods and artists.
With over 120 artworks included in the exhibition, the collection gives viewers insight into the artist’s favorite motifs. As one of Max’ signature subjects, the American flag paired with a bright red heart occurs frequently in the collection.
After World War II, American artists began using popular imagery and symbolism to uncover a new social reality. The American flag in particular became an artistic vehicle for uncovering larger themes such as nationalism, identity and technology.
In his “Flag” series, artist Jasper Johns posited color, line and brushstroke as a metaphor for the examination of the collective fabric of American identity. The work of Johns, a pioneer of what would later become the pop art movement, forces viewers to intellectually engage with the meaning behind such symbols and therefore acknowledge the centuries-long persistence of iconography in Western culture.
Max began painting these American symbols in 1976, the year of America’s bicentennial. As a Jewish-German immigrant, Max has a deep appreciation and fondness for his adoptive nation that is apparent.
For the sentimental among visitors, Max’s paintings of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag are examples of a proudly American artist. Alternatively, such images continue the legacy of the pop art movement’s investigation of symbols and their role in shaping national identity.
Max’s appreciation for modern artists is evidenced by his interpretation of iconic masters. On display are Max’s replications of works made famous by Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas, Marc Chagall and Vincent Van Gogh.
As an artistic muse, Max’s Van Gogh appears in two self-portraits and three versions of his famous “Starry Night.” These versions retain Van Gogh’s signature style while combining it with the bright, neon-colored palette that makes Max’s works instantly recognizable.
Like pop art’s use of American symbolism, reappropriation has a storied history within 20th-century art. Investigating past artistic styles can pave pathways into the present.
A small grouping of Central Park landscape paintings is a standout within the collection. While the thick, painterly brushwork evokes historical art styles, Max seems to relish equally the application of color and the smallest of narrative details.
In conjunction with this exhibition, Max will make two public appearances at the gallery. The appearances are free and open to the public, with RSVP required on Saturday, March 18, from 6-9 p.m., and on Sunday, March 19, from 1-4 p.m. Buyers interested in adding one of Max’s pieces to their collection will have the opportunity to take a picture with the artist and have him sign the work in person.
If you go …
What: “Peter Max — A Retrospective — 1960-2016”
Where: Old Towne Gallery, 580 Main, Park City
When: Regular gallery hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Special appearances by Peter Max, RSVP required: Saturday, March 19, 6-9 p.m., and Sunday, March 20, 1-4 p.m.
Scotti Hill is an art historian based in Salt Lake City. She has taught courses in art history at Westminster College and the University of Utah, and she currently works as a writer and curator.