Dusti Bongé Art Foundation announces new publication

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Dusti Bongé Art Foundation announces new publication
The book offers an in-depth look into Dusti Bongé's life and art, and her relationship to the three cities that most influenced both.

BILOXI, MS.- The Dusti Bongé Art Foundation today announced a major new publication—Dusti Bongé, Art and Life: Biloxi, New Orleans, New York—the first to document the full range of the artist’s exceptional life and long career. Mississippi’s pioneering Abstract Expressionist, Bongé (1903–93) was active in the burgeoning New York art scene and creative communities along the Gulf Coast from the 1930s through the early 1990s. The author, J. Richard Gruber, Ph.D., Director Emeritus of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (the Ogden), examines Bongé’s art and vision from a regional and national perspective within the evolving cultural context of 20th century American art and society.

The publication coincides with Piercing the Inner Wall: The Work of Dusti Bongé, an in-depth exhibition curated by Bradley Sumrall comprising 76 paintings and over 50 works on paper and currently on view at the Ogden through September 8, 2019.

Dusti Bongé Art Foundation Director Ligia M. Römer, Ph.D., said, “On behalf of our Board of Directors, we are thrilled to launch this comprehensive publication showcasing Dusti Bongé’s vibrant artworks and providing in-depth insights into her life, practice, and experiences in these three cities. For those less familiar with her work, we expect this will be an extraordinary discovery. We are grateful to those who supported this endeavor—particularly Paul Bongé for his invaluable contributions. Rick Gruber’s deep knowledge and research resulted in a gorgeous publication offering a far richer understanding of the career of this exceptional artist and the times in which she lived. We are delighted that her bold palettes and imaginative compositions have been captured in new photography commissioned for this book. With the book and Ogden exhibition, we are delighted that Dusti’s legacy continues to flourish and reach new audiences.”

Featuring over 500 color and black-and-white illustrations—including a breadth of examples of the artist’s prodigious oeuvre—the 352-page book demonstrates how Bongé’s work was informed by her experiences in three distinctive American cities with progressive art scenes— Biloxi, New Orleans, and New York.

Following an early career as an actor, Bongé was inspired by her husband, the artist Archie Bongé, to explore drawing and painting. Having been a student, including at the Art Students League of New York and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Archie recommended that she eschew a traditional art education in favor of following her own aesthetic instincts and exploring her natural talent. Two years after returning to Biloxi to raise their son Lyle and set up a studio, Archie died prematurely in 1936. Dusti found solace in the studio and began painting in earnest, experimenting with a range of styles.

Widely considered to be the first Mississippi artist to work consistently in a Modernist style, Bongé created a body of work that moved from figurative and Cubist depictions of her Mississippi home in the late 1930s, through a period of Surrealism, and into an Abstract Expressionist style that defined her mature work. The book traces Bongé’s development, both artistically and spiritually through her explorations of the unconscious, and the inspiration she drew from the Gulf Coast and New York.

The publication reveals how she was influenced by her associations with eminent art-world figures including groundbreaking gallerist Betty Parsons; artists George Dunbar, Hazel Guggenheim, Barnett Newman, and Theodore Stamos; her artist son Lyle Bongé and photographer grandson Paul Bongé; and others. Gruber delves into her pivotal relationship with Parsons and with other artists represented by the Parsons Gallery that included Agnes Martin, Louise Nevelson, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Robert Rauschenberg.

Dusti Bongé, Art and Life considers how she inhabited and, in her work, reflected what Gruber calls her distinctive “sense of place” in Biloxi and New Orleans and their historic links to the New York City art scene. The book presents the full range of Bongé’s creativity, extending from her stage acting to her activities in painting, sculpting, printmaking, sewing, writing, and poetry. Her creative vision and dedication to her practice resulted in a body of work that stands as an important contribution to postwar American art.

Dusti Bongé, Art and Life: Biloxi, New Orleans, New York was designed by Phillip Collier Design Studio, New Orleans, LA, and is distributed by the University Press of Mississippi.

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