A collection of works by world-famous pop artist Peter Max is coming to a Buckhead gallery.
The Wentworth Gallery at Phipps Plaza will host an exhibition June 15 and 16 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Max has served as the official artist of the Grammy Awards, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and five Super Bowls, and the show is coming in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival and Max’s historic “Moon Landing” painting.
Though Max did not paint the artwork for the original Woodstock event, he did create the stage banner art for the Woodstock ’99 festival, at 600 feet by 80 feet. A smaller copy of that piece will be at least one of the items on display at the exhibition, in honor of that event’s 20th anniversary.
“I’m thrilled about it,” said David Holden, who leads sales and gallery development for Wentworth’s entire operation and is the director of its Phipps location. “There’s going to be a pieces that haven’t been seen before and a lot of older works. It’s a very comprehensive collection. … It’s wonderful.”
Max, who lives in New York, won’t make an appearance at the gallery due to his health (he has dementia), but in an email interview, the 81-year-old said he’s “very excited” about the show.
The German American Jew was born in Berlin, but he and his family fled Germany and the Nazis when World War II started, living in Shanghai, China, and, later, Haifa, Israel. He became an artist thanks to support from his mother, who worked as a fashion designer before the war.
“She would leave art supplies on the balcony of our pagoda house,” Max said. “She gave me permission to have fun, create, experiment and make a big mess. Once, I scribbled crayons all over her large steamer trunks. When she came home and saw it, instead of scolding me, she picked me up in her arms and said, ‘My little artist.’
“She was wonderful and so encouraging. A few years later, when we moved to Haifa, when I was a teenager, my mother sent me to take art lessons with Professor Hünick, an Austrian Fauve painter. He taught me to paint in bold and exaggerated colors.”
When he was a teenager, Max and his family moved to New York. After high school he attended the Art Students League, where he studied realism painting.
“Norman Rockwell was a student there, too,” Max said. “I wanted to paint magazine covers like he did. I worked late into the night on my realism paintings — so much detail on all of the color, light and shadows. Then there was a color printing revolution with high-speed presses and photographers like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn had become more in vogue. I moved away from realism and developed a new form of graphic art. I made collages from archival photo libraries in a kaleidoscopic style.
“I created my own kind of “psychedelic surrealism” and printed the works as posters. Then I met Swami Satchidananda in Paris and invited him to New York and helped him found the Integral Yoga Institute. It’s an amazing institute that is going strong in downtown New York City. The Swami helped give yoga firm roots here in America and I’m so proud of that. Yoga released such creativity in me. It inspired me to create my ’60s ‘cosmic’ pop art that spoke to so many people.”
Max said he’s always been drawn to music and paints while listening to rock and jazz. He’s a longtime friend of Michael Lang, the concert promoter who created the original Woodstock festival and asked Max to paint the ’99 festival stage banner.
“We’re two Brooklyn guys that had a lot in common. … He gave a message of peace for the thousands of people there,” he said. “I can’t believe that was 50 years ago. … People associated my ’60s era art with the Woodstock generation. I was beyond thrilled to do it.”
According to a May 28 report by the New York Times, Max no longer paints regularly, and there are “ghost painters” who paint for him and he only signs works once they are done. Of the allegations outlined in the article, Holden said, “That’s a whole mess I’m not going to get involved in.”
But Holden did say Wentworth has had a relationship with Max for over 25 years (he appeared at the gallery’s Atlanta shows up until a few years ago), and all the pieces sold at the exhibition will include a certificate of authenticity stating they are truly his works. Holden also said he’s visited Max’s studio in New York at least seven times.
“I’ve worked with this man and seen him work in his studio,” he said. “… We only sell originals and we only sell authentic works.”
Holden also said fans who purchase a certain amount of Max’s artwork at the exhibition will receive a trip to visit him at his studio (ask Holden at the gallery to find out how much, he said).
“This is a guy who transcends the art business. He’s more about American culture, and he is a part of our history,” Holden said. When I studied art many years ago, they talked about how art records history, and (Max’s art represents) a great snapshot of this time in our lives.”