This exhibition explores William Kent’s (1919-2012) calamitous life through his art, highlighting his skill and creativity as well as the paradoxes that drove him, bringing his erotically charged work back to New York for the first time in nearly 50 years. From rising art star to recluse, self-taught printmaker and sculptor William Kent in many respects embodied the title of his semi-autobiographical 1964 print, My Life Ruined By Sex.
While Kent’s first foray into the formal art world in New York in 1962 was met with positive reviews, with the New York Times declaring him a “definite discovery” in 1963 and noting that Kent was an artist “with one eye on old carvings of the cigar store Indian type and the other on Pop art at its most saucy,” these positive reviews could not protect him from the censorship of the time and the detrimental impact his political critique would have upon his career. His 1965 exhibition of sexual-political prints at the Castellane Gallery in new York City entitled Sex and Violence, Or Erotic and Patriotic Prints! turned out to be the last straw and following its opening, and Kent was dismissed from his post at the John Slade Ely House, in part for creating “sick” works in its premise.
Kent never fully recovered from the aftermath of this exhibition, losing his footing once and for all within the formal New York City-centric art scene he revered. He took solitary refuge in his barn in Durham, Connecticut, continuing to make prints regularly until 1977 when he turned his attention to wood sculpture, focusing on large scale pieces of everyday objects. Though far removed from the New York City art scene he so coveted after 1965, his creative output over the course of six decades never ceased. Kent carried out most of his life as a solitary, indigent, and overlooked master. This exhibition seeks to rectify this by bringing attention to his prints, slates, sculpture and personal ephemera, placing a life and a life’s work in context.
Kent’s legacy resides in the William Kent Revocable Trust, established a number of years prior to his death in 2012, not only to preserve the enormous collection of prints, slates, and sculptures he created over the course of six decades, but to also provide support to indigent artists. This was particularly important to Kent given that this was a state he found himself in many times over the course of his life. Those interested in purchasing works by William Kent, should contact Joan Baer at [email protected] or visit the Trust’s website at williamkentfoundation.org.