According to Lack, who is now in his 70s and in ill health, his life's work may have ultimately served a losing cause. "I consider it one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century--the destruction of the painter's art," he says. "There are only a few people keeping it going. And nobody is aware this great tradition of Renaissance painting has disappeared from the face of the earth....The art is just so valuable....Needless to say, though, it's underground. It doesn't make the news or get covered in the art magazines or show up in museums."
According to Professor Weisberg, the forces butting up against the realist painters may be more than a small group such as the ASCR can handle. "It's part of a greater cultural battle," Weisberg says, citing the stronghold of the "modernist elite" in such institutions as Walker Art Center. This is the problem most often cited by Society artists: They are convinced that they're being shut out by a cultural establishment intent on upholding the standards--or the lack of standards--of the modernist century.
Classical realist standard-bearer Peter Bougie (left) with a friend from anatomy drawing class
"I do believe that artists who studied in this tradition have been pretty neglected by museum curators and scholars, the people who control access," says David Farmer, who also believes more realist artists should be given institutional opportunities to show their work. "We've swallowed the mainstream argument to the point that artists who don't fit into the standard textbook history of art are ignored and not valued."
Curator Patrick Noon of the Minneapolis Institute of Art figures the problem is one of ambivalence. "It's not as though people hold these [classical realist] philosophies in contempt," says Noon. "You just don't see that sort of art in the museums. I suppose that's part of the problem....I thought Atelier Lack was an interesting thing to exist in a place like this. And they should be encouraged."
But when asked whether she would consider having a show of art by the classical realists, Joan Rothfuss, associate curator at Walker Art Center seems bemused; she is left temporarily speechless by the question. "We don't even talk about it on those terms....I go on personal interest. Responding to whatever is going on....Everything is considered if it's 20th-century or contemporary art. That's what we do."
At the same time, Rothfuss, who reported she was aware of at least a few of the works Richard Lack produced over his long career in Minnesota, would not comment on whether she'd ever consider showing his art at the Walker. Ultimately, she declined to say what she thought of Lack's work.
"The museum people don't even think about our art," Lack says. "In our little way, though, we've tried to find the way back."