Lou Meisel

Remembering John Kacere - Exhibition 2020

— John Kacere

In 1966, my wife, Susan Pear Meisel was studying art at Parsons School of Design in New York. Entering the school on one of her first days of the semester, she heard loud yelling coming from another floor. It turned out to be from a diminutive Lebanese professor in HER assigned classroom, and he scared the hell out of her. 

His name was John Kacere. He turned out to be a very demanding teacher, but also a very honest, sincere influence on his students, and eventually, an artist that we both admired, respected, and had a friendly relationship with, until he died in in 1999. While Susan spoke of John and his classroom conduct and anecdotes, I personally did not meet him for another 5 years or so. John had essentially been a late abstract painter until the end of the sixties and had not really garnered any attention for his work in that genre. 

John was very good friends with Ivan Karp, who became a very well-known dealer and collector. At the time, Ivan had been working for Leo Castelli, where he had helped to find and exhibit the POP artists, who became the second great genre of American contemporary artists. Ivan was about to leave Castelli and open his own gallery, which was going to be one of the very first galleries in SoHo. There he exhibited, among MANY others, several of the artists for whom I coined the word Photorealism. He called his gallery O.K. Harris, paying homage to the famous riverboat gambler named Oscar Klondike Harris. The space opened on West Broadway in 1969, in what was a gigantic space for the time. 

Anyways, around 1967 or shortly thereafter, John and Ivan visited an exhibition where a painting by the well-known pop artist Mel Ramos was included. It was one of that artist’s works from his lesser embraced series, “The Fashion Plates”. There were about a dozen paintings that Ramos created for this series in 1966. They were on shaped canvases, featuring women in high-end fashionwear; a number of the outfits had openings where bare breasts, lacy bras and panties were exposed. One of those paintings focused on a striped dress with a circular opening showing white panties over the girl’s crotch and a bit of her inner thighs. It was called “Beaver Shot”. It got their attention… in a humorous way, and Ivan said to John, “If an artist gave me a group of paintings based on THAT, I would make them a star!” 

Mel Ramos
“Beaver Shot”
Oil on shaped canvas-covered masonite panel
52 x 52 inches

Not long after that amusing show, Kacere painted “Untitled (Bikini)” (1969), which I was very fortunate and happy to acquire recently. It marked the beginning of one of the most unique and notable career-long bodies of work in contemporary art. 

John Kacere
oil on canvas
39 x 48 inches

In ‘72, I was commissioned to create a Photorealist collection for Stuart M. Speiser who wanted to build an art collection that focused on aviation. During the process, I began to work with many of Ivan’s O. K. Harris painters, some of whom I had met and others who had MY attention. John Kacere was someone who had my attention. Because of the theme of the collection and the fact that Kacere was unsure of his “connection” to Photorealism, he was not included at that time. However, we DID become friends, and I did begin to acquire his paintings when I could, and while I unfortunately sold some over the years, I now have a fine collection with examples of each aspect of what he painted.

John is definitely a Photorealist whose paintings far exceeded the photography that he used to gather information for his paintings. As his work progressed both in imagery and technical ability, he advanced from the vertical figure, to the reclining, both front and rear views of female midriffs. He did diverge from 1983 to 1987, and again for two of his very last paintings, he painted the full female figure in bed covered by sheets where the figure while covered was clearly defined. Our current exhibition Remembering John Kacere does include an example of every aspect of his career.

I think the most popular are the rear-view panty and lingerie covered works. One of my own favorites is Reina. There is an amusing image of this painting over Sylvester Stallone’s desk in his collection with him as Rambo seated… BEFORE I got it back. I might point out that Kacere’s work CAN be seen as all three parts of realist painting, portrait, still life AND landscape. Look and think about that.

Sylvester Stallone in his home office with Kacere’s “Reina”

Many of the Photorealists, as well as many artists in general, have very limited production. Very few of their works ever come up at auction or for resale; owners acquired these works because they LIKED to LOOK at them, and not for a variety of other reasons. Since the original owners don’t part with them, when the artists die or can no longer produce, they and their estates are often left with little or no works from their careers. As a result, without any public exhibitions or museum acquisitions, artists can fall from memory and the interest in the art world. John Kacere is an artist who deserves to have his legacy remembered and to hold a place in history. 

All together in his recognizable historic oeuvre, there were possibly only 130 paintings. Over the years, I have endeavored to collect and assemble his work in order to present exhibitions such as the one we are currently holding, in order to reawaken interest in the art. This exhibition includes about a dozen paintings from early verticals to reclining front and rear images and even includes a sheet-covered figure. There are also several drawings exhibited, as well as several photographs that Kacere took and worked from. I have placed Kacere’s work in numerous museum exhibitions and books, and with this event will continue to work for an artist I care about.