Staffordshire bull gets Real

March 13, 1998

Staffordshire University's Real Gallery in New York is inappropriately named. Its current exhibition, "The last paintings of Gary Richer", is anything but real.

Gary Richer is an invention of fine art lecturer Paul Rooney who, in the name of postmodernism, is claiming to be showing a series of lost works by a Liverpool artist who committed suicide by jumping into the Mersey.

Seeming to believe his own deception, Mr Rooney recalls how one day last summer he found ten canvas panels in a roadside skip along with the rest of the contents of an artist's studio including sketchbooks and notes.

He says the notes formed a suicide note, which is faithfully reproduced in the exhibition brochure along with other "worried ruminations on painting and theory".

"To whoever reads this I can't carry on, I'll jump in the Mersey, it is impossible to paint in these times without confronting (Gerhard) Richter at every turn. Dead ends. My gravestone should paraphrase Shelley. 'His name was writ in grey oil paint'. But don't bother with a gravestone. Cremate me."

The paintings, which form five diptychs of oil on linen, are Mr Rooney's own and are now hanging in New York. Some are abstract, some are based on photographs and all involve the use of text.

Mr Rooney's ruse convinced Staffordshire University publicity office, which has sent out a press release trumpeting the "Lost works on show at New York gallery". When asked if the story was true, university spokeswoman Alison Parr said: "That depends if you are going to drop the article."

Admitting that the deception may appear odd, she said the paintings had been lost - in Mr Rooney's mind: "Unless you move in these circles, you don't realise it's just what they do. It is very post-modern." The real story, she added, was that the Real Gallery had not yet had enough publicity.

"Life Itself: The last paintings of Gary Richer" is open until March 28 at the Real Gallery in the West Chelsea Arts Building, New York City.

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