“Got to hurry on back to my hotel room where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece,” Bob Dylan sang in 1971. “She promised that she’d be right there with me when I paint my masterpiece.”
It’s unclear if the Nobel Prize-winning songwriter ever got around to that masterpiece, but if he did, it’s almost certainly on view now in “Retrospectrum,” a survey of Dylan’s artistic output from the late 1960s through to today, which opened last month at Florida International University’s Frost Art Museum in Miami.
More than 180 paintings, drawings, and sculptures make up the show, much of which has never been seen by the public before. And that’s what makes the show special: The artist is one of the most famous humans on the planet, but its offerings will be largely new to audiences, especially in the U.S. The show marks the first time the artworks have been shown together stateside. (A previous version of the show was held at the Modern Art Museum in Shanghai in 2019.)
“Seeing many of my works years after I completed them is a fascinating experience,” Dylan said in a statement about the retrospective (a straightforward reflection from a man who, now in his sixth decade of making idiosyncratic music and art, rarely offers them).
The insight gets even more Dylanesque from there: “I don’t really associate them with any particular time or place or state of mind, but view them as part of a long arc; a continuing of the way we go forth in the world and the way our perceptions are shaped and altered by life. One can be as profoundly influenced by events in Morretes, Brazil, as they can be by the man who sells El País in Madrid.”
Much like his music, Dylan’s visual oeuvre spans a broad swath of styles and genres. But whereas his nasal voice would give away even the most out-there tune as a Dylan original, no such clue connects his artwork. From painted depictions of cramped urban cityscapes (think Edward Hopper) and yawning Western vistas, to a series of sculptural gates made from welding together a hodgepodge of metal materials, they don’t necessarily seem to be from one man’s hand.
“I think what distinguishes Dylan as a songwriter is his willingness to take disparate literary and musical strains and incorporate them into his unique vision. You can see the same kind of open-mindedness and willingness to experiment in Dylan’s visual work,” the exhibition’s curator, Shai Baitel, told last month. (Baitel is the artistic director of the Modern Art Museum Shanghai and organized Dylan’s 2019 show there.)
“I am convinced that creativity, no matter in which field or context, comes from the same deep place within us,” she went on. “And the difference in its articulation through different art forms only serves to deepen our understanding of that creativity.”
Also on display is Dylan’s newest body of work, a series of paintings inspired by famous movie scenes called Deep Focus.
“All these images come from films,” the artist explained. “They try to highlight the different predicaments that people find themselves in. Whether it’s James Cagney or Margaret Rutherford, the dreams and schemes are the same—life as it’s coming at you in all its forms and shapes.”
“Retrospectrum: Bob Dylan” is on view now through April 22, 2022 at the Frost Art Museum in Miami.