THE death of artist Robert Breer has been announced by staff at Baltic where a major exhibition of his work is currently on display.
Breer, who was 85, flew from his home in America to attend the June opening of his first UK retrospective at Gateshead’s Centre for Contemporary Art.
Baltic senior curator Laurence Sillars had visited the artist at his studio and helped to fire his enthusiasm for the exhibition.
Though frail and not in the best of health, he had been determined to travel to the North East to see it.
Breer will be remembered principally as a pioneering film-maker, perhaps the first artist to have films displayed in art galleries.
He also created a series of slow-moving sculptures which he called floats – a comment on some of the more pretentious sculptural trends of the 1960s.
Speaking to The Journal in Gateshead, he recalled how he didn’t see much art when he was growing up in Detroit.
When a rich art collector gave him a glimpse of his paintings by Picasso and Matisse, his eyes were opened . This, he recalled, was “dazzling” and “real art”.
Later, when studying art at university in California, the course of his artistic path was set when he got lost on a museum tour and strayed into a room hung with abstract paintings by the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.
“I was shocked and amazed,” he said. “That was a kind of epiphany.”
His newfound love of abstraction got him thrown out of the art department because “they said they couldn’t teach me any more”.
Breer quit painting in the 1950s and turned to film-making, creating the seemingly random kaleidoscopic films on display at Baltic and influencing future generations of artists and film-makers.
While visiting, Robert Breer spoke with passion and also humour about his art, admitting that there was “a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek” about his earliest floats.
“I started making them at a time when other artists were getting a lot of attention with reduced art, immobile bare boxes and such like,” he said.
Trundling randomly and at a snail’s pace across one of Baltic’s huge galleries, they have raised many smiles since the exhibition opened.
Breer said he was happy with the way the exhibition had turned out and also to be reacquainted with some of his very early abstract paintings.
They were, he declared, “in pretty good shape. They’ve been restored so they’re even newer looking than before.”
A Baltic statement said he died at home in America on Saturday. His exhibition will continue at Baltic until September 25.