Ten Unknowns

by Jon Robin Baitz

February 7 – March 7, 2004

Synopsis

The play asks provocative questions about an aging, once-promising painter who has exiled himself to Mexico. How do artists go out of fashion, and what it is like to be left behind?

Ten Unknowns refers to a showing by ten artists in a New York gallery in 1949. Among the young artists whose work was displayed was Malcolm Raphelson, who honed his craft in the Left-leaning, WPA-sponsored art world of the times, only to find rejection and frustration when Abstract Expressionism became the rage. Raphelson stayed with Figurative Painting – and paid the price. His work was condemned and ignored, motivating him to leave the country for Mexico, where he has lived in exile and obscurity for close to three decades.

It is interesting to note how powerful social forces in post-war America, sometimes financed by the CIA, launched a surreptitious attack on the Social-Realism painters of the 30s and 40s. For proof of this, read The Cultural Cold War – the CIA and the World of Arts and Letters by Frances Stonor Saunders (The New Press, 2000). As part of America’s propaganda struggle against the Soviet Union, the cause of Abstract Expressionism was embraced. “We recognized that this was the kind of art that did not have anything to do with socialist realism, and made socialist realism look even more stylized and more rigidly confined than is was,” said a CIA official. The government’s deep pockets and influence with arts foundations, museums (especially NY’s Museum of Modern Art), magazines, critics and artists themselves, was aimed at selling the world on the notion that Abstract Expressionism was “free enterprise painting,” and that modern art “in its infinite variety and ceaseless exploration was the foremost symbol of democracy.” The CIA and its collaborators succeeded so well in their secret mission that, as painter Adam Gopnick said, “two generations of realists were forced to live in basements and pass still-lifes around like samizdat.”

Who’s Who

The Cast

Malcolm Raphelson: DENNIS CARRIG
Trevor Fabricant: HEATH KELTS
Judd Sturgess: NICHOLAS RICHBERG
Julia Bryant: DEBORAH L. SHERMAN

The Artists

Playwright: Jon Robin Baitz
Director: Joseph Adler
Set: Tim Connelly
Lighting: Jeff Quinn
Music/Sound: Michael J. Hoffmann
Costumes: Estela Vrancovich
Props: Claire Savitt
Technical Director: Osvaldo Palacios
Stage Manager: Michelle S. Wargacki
Paintings: Caesar A. Velez


Ten Unknowns

Photos: George Schiavone