‘It’s Only Art’ Proves the Late Village Voice Critic John Perreault Was Witty With the Brush as Well as the Pen

Perreault comes across as an irreverent and frisky amateur in a new show at Bellport's MARQUEE PROJECTS.

John Perreault's
John Perreault's "It's Only Art" at MARQUEE PROJECTS in Bellport, NY

It’s not that unusual for an art critic to be an artist as well. John Ruskin was much praised for his watercolors; Clement Greenberg made paintings, though they were lesser known. Jerry Saltz got his start as an artist. Walter Robinson, the enlightened former artnet News editor, is now experiencing the latter-day limelight as an artist, recently opening a gallery show in tony St. Moritz.

The paint-splattered sideline of the late Village Voice art critic John Perreault, who importantly championed the work of feminist and gay artists until his passing two years ago at age 78, is most intriguing not for the fact that he made art—but how and why he did. Now a fascinating show of his art at MARQUEE PROJECTS in Bellport, New York, provides insight into the writer’s artistic MO. A tour through the gallery evidences that Perreault often used his creativity as a way of entering inside a more famous artist’s style, learning its contours from within—not unlike a passionate home cook replicating the recipes of a famous culinary icon, provisionally, in their own kitchen.

Perreault wasn’t fancy about it, either—sometimes hilariously so. For a gloss on Chamberlain’s sculptures of twisted auto parts, the writer piled up two red True Value wheelbarrows; a pair of metal folding chairs are tied together with fishing line. The dripping poured paintings of Morris Louis are echoed in two squishes of red paint that course down a white canvas. White paint mixed with sand is thrown in loping Jackson Pollock-esque lines against a thrift-store seascape. Another white canvas is covered by scratch marks, as if attacked by Cy Twombly’s chicken.

A can, a rock, some coupons for Starbuck’s VIA, and a cardboard box, meanwhile, are tied together by fishing line, like something Christo might leave outside for garbage pickup. In a lovely touch, the Japanese art of Kintsugi is reflected in a broken cup and saucer with the injured rims painted with gold, and a circle of “mended stones” that Perreault broke apart and repaired (and which was once displayed at the Noguchi Museum) seems to recall Richard Long. Other artistic echoes to be discerned are Marcel Broodthaers and Christopher Wool.

Curated by Beverly Allan and Mark Van Wagner, the artist founder of MARQUEE PROJECTS, the show also presents Perreault experimenting and going his own way, such as in a light-hearted combine of a small found painting and a box of Rembrandt toothpaste, but mainly in his works stained from sand and grounds of instant coffee. Perreault enjoyed instant coffee as a medium in part because it was first mass-produced by a man who had a house in Bellport, where the critic and his husband lived. Sand, another local medium in Bellport’s waterfront community, is actually what originally brought Perreault and Van Wagner together—they met on Facebook when they both used it in their artworks.

Approaching his art in a spirit of impetuous play, Perreault had a similar outlook on what should become of it after he was gone. After visiting the notoriously persnickety Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, the writer outlined a detailed plan for his own institution:

The place that wins the honor of hosting the John Perreault Museum, unlike the Still Museum, must have something to do with the life of the real John Perreault. Clyfford may have passed through Denver a couple of times, taught at the then far-distant Boulder for one meager semester, but he had as much to do with Denver as he had to do with Oshkosh or Sheboygan. The City of Denver put up the cash.

The John Perreault Museum must be in New York City, where I was born, preferably in the East Village where I have lived so long.

The John Perreault Museum must continually have all my unsold artworks on display and they should always be in the majority. Otherwise, the museum may show examples of work by any artist I have written about as an art critic, even artists I have attacked.

Unlike at Clyfford Still Museum, no part of the John Perreault Museum may be rented out for events of any kind. Strollers will be forbidden, as well as humans under 16….

Sumptuary laws will apply.

All clothing worn by visitors must be black. Perfume is forbidden. As are cowboy boots with or without taps and click-clack high-heeled shoes of any sort. No one must be taller than my art. Jewelry will be confiscated, especially jewelry that jingles and jangles, including the 18k gold-watch bracelets worn by very rich lawyers and accountants.

No starch, no pudding. And above all, no art criticism.

So far there’s no museum. But this show, aptly titled “It’s Only Art,” is a memorial of such warmth and indulgence it could have only made Perreault laugh.

John Perreault’s “It’s Only Art” runs at MARQUEE PROJECTS through July 16.


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