Venezuelan-born Meyer Vaisman was one of the most talked about figures in the New York art scene in the 1980s, alongside his Neo-Expressionist contemporaries Jeff Koons and Peter Halley. Touted as one of hottest new artists of the time, Vaisman co-founded the fabled International With Monument gallery in the Lower East side, which hosted Jeff Koons’s first solo show in 1985. Another artist Vaisman’s gallery exhibited was Richard Prince, with whom he shared with an interest in investigating issues of authorship and appropriation. In particular, Vaisman wanted his paintings to look as little like paintings as possible, and he was one of the first artists to pioneer inkjet printing as an artistic medium. Vaisman’s process is indebted to that of Warhol; not only in terms of themes, Vaisman also implemented the silkscreened portrait canvas in many of his works.
Vaisman’s Souvenir resembles the sort of kitschy caricature one might sit for at a carnival or amusement park. He transferred a silkscreened caricature of a woman’s face in black ink onto a small white oval-shaped canvas. Vaisman attached this to a stack of five additional canvases, all covered with a pattern of enlarged woven canvas fibers that satirize traditional painting and highlight the artificiality of his process. The geometric repetition of Vaisman’s stacked canvases echoes Minimalist sculptures, like those by Donald Judd, which were a major influence on the artists of the Neo-Geo group. Yet they also provide a sarcastic commentary on the commodified art object. The inordinate number of attached canvases signify excess in the art market. Hung on the wall, the stacked canvases project outward, almost as if a sculpture. Vaisman’s painting draws attention to itself with almost comical exertion and desperation to assert its presence.
In spite of Vaisman’s intentionally impersonal creative process and the sarcastic tone of his larger body of work, Souvenir can be interpreted as a genuine depiction of a slice of Vaisman’s personal life. Vaisman memorialized his relationship with Lisa Phillips, then a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, by silkscreening a portrait of her face onto the canvas. Whether Souvenir commemorates a particular moment in their relationship or their relationship in general, it also immortalizes the strong emotional bond the two once shared. Both artist and subject have moved on; Phillips is now director of the New Museum in New York, and Vaisman, working from Barcelona, no longer paints human figures. A flurry of New York solo shows in recent years signals a resurgence of interest in Vaisman’s art, and increased recognition of his role in one of the important artistic moments in New York, immortalized in his Souvenir, a souvenir of the past.