Arts & Humanities Initiative Awards Funding for Vogan Book Project
Associate Professor Travis Vogan has been awarded a fall 2019 Arts & Humanities Initiative (AHI) grant to conduct research for his book project on LeRoy Neiman.
Neiman was a popular American artist famous for his paintings of sports, leisure and celebrities.
LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012) was arguably the most famous and wealthiest artist of the twentieth century. He cut an unmistakable figure that included a jet-black handlebar mustache, long cigar dangling from his teeth, loud suits, and eye-catching female assistants. Neiman paired this image with an accessible artistic approach that displayed colorful scenes of leisure, sporting events, and celebrities. Moreover, his work circulated in spaces outside of the museums where art stereotypically lives. His art appeared in Playboy; showed up on TV to complement sports coverage; and was sold as prints in malls and gift shops. Neiman’s accessibility, commercial success, and popularity combined to inform his nearly comprehensive dismissal by art critics, academics, and other cultural gatekeepers. The fact that Neiman has received little scholarly attention despite his outsize status demonstrates the power of such discourses to expel artists who do not abide by established norms. But this book project posits that we can learn just as much about these norms—and the culture they help to create—from studying those artists that have been condemned as we can from studying those that have been canonized.
LeRoy Neiman: America's Favorite and Most Hated Artist will trace Neiman’s life story and use it to explore the attitudes that inform which artists, activities, and artifacts are deemed respectable and which attract excoriation over time and in certain contexts. It will combine archival research, interviews with those who knew and worked with Neiman, and analysis of his work to explore how Neiman became a popular artist, how critics responded to his output, and how he struggled to balance his efforts to acquire money and fame with a quest to achieve respectability. In doing so, it will consider how Neiman’s participation in various popular settings simultaneously drew adoration from mainstream audiences and scorn from the art establishment. The debates Neiman sparked help to probe popular culture’s conflicted relationship to art. More specifically, they illustrate a previously unexamined nexus of art, sport, media, and commerce that this interdisciplinary book project will bring into focus.