Lou Meisel

@ The Cedar Tavern was on University Place just above 8th Street

#1 — The Art of Living

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.

For 20 years I have been asked dozens of times to write a book about my life. Well, my answer is finally, “Yes,” and the working title? “OK, OK, OK, I’ll DO IT!

A thousand stories in my head! But where to begin? The beginning, yes. A good place to start.

George Washington Bridge

On September 4th, 1956, I turned fourteen. My friend Larry was older than me and lived in the town next to Tenafly where my family moved in 1954. He said one day that we should go to the Museum of Modern Art. I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t have any exposure to art, and while my parents took me to many concert halls to hear classical music, I had not been to museums. Well, Larry was a bit more sophisticated than I was and his father was actually a member of the museum. So I was intrigued.

But this excursion meant getting permission from my parents to board a bus in Tenafly, cross the George Washington Bridge, and take a subway south to 53rd street in Manhattan. My dad said, “Son, you’ve made your Bat Mitzvah, and you are now a man. So you may go.”

When we walked into the museum that day, I was confronted by a show of abstract paintings.The size, scale, aggression and in a weird way, beauty, was astounding. Inconceivable actually. What struck me the hardest were the works of Franz Kline. There were some by Larry Rivers and other second or later generation abstract painters, and while Rivers did not grab my attention then, he did later as I got to know him better.

My introduction to the art world started that very day and what was then called “Action Painting and Abstract Expressionism.” I was most taken with Kline and Rothko, but Gottlieb and Still and others got my attention as well. Pollock and De Kooning were not among my favorites back then. I find that strange.

Larry and I returned to the MoMa many times over the next few years, and we also knew where a lot of these artists hung out after leaving their studios in the evening. The Cedar Tavern was on University Place just above 8th Street. Larry, being as precocious as he was, could get us in a lot; we would drink Cokes, and just watch. We saw many arguments, a few fistfights and eavesdropped on lots of smoky, heated discussions. Of course, we also paid a lot of attention to the “girls” who were also artists; we just didn’t know it at the time.

@ The Cedar Tavern was on University Place just above 8th Street

I recently saw an exhibition in the Palm Springs Museum called, “The Women of Abstract Expressionism” It paid homage to about 15 women, many of whom I do not recall seeing back then and the one artist I remembered very well was not represented at that show.

This woman I remember so distinctly wore a black leather jacket all the time. I never spoke to her at the Cedar Tavern, but about 30 years ago I was visiting Audrey Flack in her Riverside Drive Studio. Anyway, I noticed a photograph of that same artist in that exact jacket and it turned out to be Audrey.

I was in the initial phases of commissioning the Stuart M. Speiser Collection of Photorealism and contacted her to be included. She had moved on from Abstract painting to New Realism, and in 1972 when I went to visit her, Photorealism was taking shape. Shortly after that, I began representing her in my new SoHo gallery.–the girl in the leather jacket from the Cedar Tavern all those years ago.

From 1959 through 1964, I got involved with Stamos, Larry Rivers, Tom Wesselmann, Mel Ramos, Mark Rothko, and many others to one extent or another. But those are stories for another time.

So, this then is the beginning.