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Roger Hargrove

b. 1947

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The son of art authenticator Benjamin Hargrove, Roger studied philosophy at the University of California in Berkeley during the cultural revolution of the 1960s and became a campus activist. He participated in the anti-war movement helping to organize sit-ins and marching on the Berkeley Draft Board. In the early 1970s, Roger had two children with his first wife, Ginger Abrams.

Thanks to his father's work, Roger gained some knowledge of the art world in his youth and applied that knowledge to his activism. Following the Vietnam War he started the journal No Art, which focused on institutional critique and advocated for greater diversity in museum exhibition. He was inspired by conceptual artists like Michael Asher and Allen Ruppersberg as well as his own family history. Published from 1978-1986, the journal took a radical stance against what was perceived as staid institutionalism in the art world and advocated a "punk rock" attitude toward culture – tearing down barriers and giving voice to artists outside the mainstream, particularly minorities. Throughout his career, Roger was criticized for his anti-elitist stance because he was the grandson of the famous Gilbert Hargrove, even though his father Benjamin had long ago stopped supporting him because of his anti-war activities in the 1960s.

Neglectful of his own family, Roger divorced in 1982 and Ginger, a secretary for the Southern Pacific Railroad in Burlingame, moved with their two children to work at GTE Sprint in Kansas City. Roger found himself on a fast downward spiral fueled by drugs and investments in controversial and costly conceptual art exhibitions.

One of the more notable exhibits that Roger sponsored featured the paint brushes, clothing, tools, and other personal items of famous artists, but none of their art. He wrote in No Art that "people who like relics get excited, not about the saint, but about the saint's bones. What they want from artists is not the art but the button torn from their jacket."

He also financed the notorious artist Joan Mundy, who would purchase art from galleries and then add her own embellishments to the work. Roger defended her, saying she had as much right to creative input as the artist that originally painted the piece, but the arts community loudly denounced her as a vandal and defacer of great art. There was little they could do, however, since she owned the works in question.

After Mundy's creative enhancements to a painting by Millet, action was taken to stop her. Her appearance at auction houses and galleries caused intense bidding wars as collectors sought to keep art out of her destructive hands. Mundy was priced out of the market and eventually banned from Sotheby's. She sued Sotheby's, but died in an automobile accident before the trial could take place. Ironically, some of the works of art "defaced" by Joan Mundy are worth considerably more today thanks to her alterations. The Millet painting recently sold for $1.3 million.

Roger Hargrove's downfall came in 1985 after a national outcry over an exhibit at the Charleston Museum in South Carolina of tombstones taken from an abandoned Civil War graveyard. Condemned for disrespecting the dead, Roger countered that it was the same sort of grave robbing that Native Americans had been complaining about for decades. As Roger explained, "Today's museums are no better than the tombs they raided. These modern mausoleums worshiping dead culture are just that – death cults." The controversy was fueled by the fact that Roger had received partial funding for the exhibit, in the amount of $1,000, from the National Endowment for the Arts. It was unfortunately the death knell for No Art, which lost its backers and advertisers, as well as its influence.

Roger's frequent complaints against museums was that "history shows us that artists starve and suffer in their lifetimes only to be celebrated as great geniuses after they're dead, yet today's museum culture carries on this tradition. We should be celebrating those geniuses who are still alive and yearning to be heard." He called museums places "where art goes to die" and advocated for more fine art in public spaces – the office, the shopping mall, the nightclub, the gas station, the public restroom. "Art must be a daily part of our lives. It needs to be woven into the fabric of society, not cloistered away for study. It should be a normal part of our existence, and it should constantly challenge our assumptions."

Following a stint in drug rehab, Roger moved to Seattle in 1989 and married artist Lucy Fontenot, who was known for her avant garde performance art and attacking the status quo. Throughout the 1990s they operated the Font Gallery, a cornerstone of the Seattle arts scene. Roger's primary passion over the last twenty years, following the passing of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act in 1990, has been working to return works of art to coastal tribe native organizations in Washington and British Columbia.

Roger Hargrove

Portrait of Roger Hargrove in New York City in 1986.

Parents

Benjamin Hargrove (1905-1983)
Professional art authenticator who pioneered efforts at art preservation and restoration in post-war America.

Flora Torres (1922-2005)
Music prodigy who played violin for the San Francisco Symphony.

Siblings

Violet Hargrove (b. 1948)
Studied dance before marrying and settling in Butte, Montana.

Rose Hargrove (b. 1950)
Spent 25 years as an arts educator in Chicago.

Spouses

Ginger Abrams (b. 1951)
Moved to Kansas City in the 1980s to work for Sprint.

Lucy Fontenot (b. 1957)
Artist and owner of the Font Gallery in Seattle.

Children

Bryan Hargrove (b. 1972)
Attended the Kansas City Art Institute before studying theatre and graphic design.

Tara Hargrove (b. 1974)
Highly acclaimed actor, director, and playwright in Kansas City.

 

This website is a companion to the "The Hargrove Family History" exhibit by Tara Varney and Bryan Colley at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which runs from December 2012 to March 2013. You can find out more about the artists at www.jupiterkansas.com.