Introduction - Ron Cavalier

    I first met Jim Rennert in 2005, when Cavalier Galleries had recently opened a small space at 1100 Madison Avenue in New York City. Barely 400 square feet, the gallery was located one block from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and next to the ever-popular Lobel’s Prime Meats, making it a rather special spot for our Manhattan debut. That same year we decided to expand the gallery’s roster of artists by introducing some new talent to the New York City market. We launched a nationwide call for contemporary realists and received more than 100 enthusiastic submissions. From that group we selected five artists—four painters and one sculptor—to participate in a show titled Contemporary Realism.

    A dedication to representing the work of contemporary sculptors has always been integral to Cavalier Galleries; in fact, my experience working in my father’s foundry as a young man and collaborating with sculptors to bring their visions to life in bronze was what inspired my interest in selling art. The gallery already had a number of superb sculptors in its roster including Gwen Marcus, Jane DeDecker, Bruno Lucchesi, and the estate of Reuben Nakian. We offered collectors a range of subjects including traditional figurative works, mythological scenes, seminal abstract pieces, religious and historical figures, intimate family moments, and even magnificent animal sculptures. Never before, however, had I encountered bronzes depicting ordinary men in suits, elevating the daily trials, struggles, and triumphs of business to fine art. At my wife’s insistence, I decided to take a chance on this unrecognized, middle-aged artist from Salt Lake City.

    It was a wonderful exhibition opening and we sold one of Jim’s sculptures titled Walking the Tightrope. I encouraged him to come to New York for a meeting. On a cold February day, Jim and his wife Wendy arrived in Manhattan at 6:00 a.m. When they entered the gallery that afternoon, I asked them what they had done since their arrival, and they ran off a list of at least half a dozen iconic New York attractions, including the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty, that most visitors won’t see in a week! I asked how long they were staying and they responded that they had to get home that same night, and they left soon after with check in hand. I learned afterward that Jim’s financial situation was so tight he had borrowed money from his children to get the flight to New York.

    Born in 1958, Jim grew up in Las Vegas and moved to Utah when he was a teenager; he attended high school in Salt Lake City and graduated Brigham Young University in 1981. He married at the age of 22, and worked in several fields in the business world to support his family and provide for his five children. Jim was not what you would call a successful businessman, certainly not successful enough where could he could walk away from his job and become an artist; yet that is exactly what he did. He came home one day and said to his wife, “I am a sculptor and I’m going to sculpt.” As with the vast majority of aspiring artists, Jim struggled mightily for years. Self-taught, without the influences of the academic world, his voice began to emerge through the clay and molten bronze. Collectors began to notice that the works created by this humble man were special.

    Jim’s early works depicted white collar professions with humor and metaphor—an entrepreneur taking a literal leap, businessmen in a tug-of-war, a pair of executives wrestling. They were instantly relatable to many of the gallery’s clientele, who could finally see their world reflected in art. Many were aspirational, encouraging resolve, teamwork, and intergenerational support. Others were simple recognitions of human experience and the rituals of daily life. A suited man sinks into an armchair, visibly exhausted. Another sits on a bench, briefcase at hand, awaiting the commuter train. They honor the work that many Americans perform each day, work with less tangible results, bucolic settings, or physical engagement than professions more commonly depicted in art such as agricultural, industrial, or construction work. One thinks of Thomas Hart Benton’s America Today mural (1930–31) honoring laborers of various types across the country, dramatizing the gestures of muscular steel workers, for example. For someone whose labor is rooted at a desktop, seeing Jim Rennert’s sculptures for the first time is what I imagine it was like for a seventeenth-century housewife to see domestic life represented with remarkable fidelity and grace by the Dutch masters. No longer was art confined to religious or mythological themes, nor depictions of the famous and powerful.

    There is a humility and authenticity in Jim’s work, reflective of his personal experience and the directness and devotion with which he lives his life and pursues his passion. At first glance, Rennert’s may seem to be anchored by its subject matter, but what’s truly fascinating is that its ability to touch a viewer transcends gender, profession, age, and background. Children, perhaps surprisingly, gravitate to the work and this is where Jim’s gift for whimsy and storytelling shine. He frequently plays with scale, deftly bridges realism and abstraction, makes familiar references with gesture and object, and possesses a disarmingly original manner of communicating warmth and humanity through bronze and steel.

    I remember visiting the Hirshhorn estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, when I was 14 years old. My father, whose art foundry had been serving the art world since the late 1950s, restored the sculpture at the Hirshhorn estate prior to the collection being delivered to the Smithsonian Institution’s new art museum—The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden—on the mall in Washington D.C.  I can remember it as if were yesterday, driving up the stone drive through the gates, and there to my left I was introduced to the heroic Rodin work The Burgers of Calais.  I was in a new world.  As my father went about his work, I was free to wander amongst one of the world’s greatest sculpture collections –Henry Moore’s King and Queen, Rodin’s Balzac, the majestic work of George Rickey, Henri Matisse, Alexander Calder, David Smith, Aristide Maillol, Alberto Giacometti—on and on it went. Of all the great masterpieces I saw that day, the work that intrigued me the most was a sculpture of a man whose body was on two sides of a door, Man Pushing Door by Jean Ipousteguy.  I thought, “Now this is really cool.” Rennert’s ability to meld representation and abstraction, to defy expectations of subject matter, to imbue his works with an element of surprise and discovery, holds a similar appeal for contemporary collectors as Ipousteguy’s sculpture held for me.

    Over the past twelve years, Cavalier Galleries has had the pleasure and honor of presenting Jim’s work to the artistic community and the public not only through our galleries in Greenwich, Nantucket, and New York, but also in art fairs from Miami to Los Angeles, Long Island to Aspen. In (TK year), Jim put his newest work, a larger-than-life figure gazing upward, called Think Big, on a truck and drove from Utah to New York City, where he installed the sculpture on West 57th Street. City dwellers in Midtown loved the work, and Think Big subsequently traveled downtown, spending a year gracing Union Square. When Jim was asked at the time about his own positive outlook and his abrupt midlife decision to become an artist, he responded:

    I’m a very optimistic guy, and I just decided to give it a go. With five kids at home and a sixth on the way, it might not have been prudent to start life over as an artist, but when you think in positive terms and don’t believe in failure, amazing things occur. I like to jump in with both feet and make it happen, which is a lot of what this sculpture is about.

    Over the past decade, Jim’s work has grown in scale, from small maquettes to multiple works of monumental scale. Likewise, his work has expanded conceptually, with a more abstracted, everyman character assuming the place of the more fully rendered executives in his early work, and with this transition, a more reflective mood has emerged, one which embraces ideas outside the boardroom and explores more universal themes. As the artists enters his 60th year, he has created an outstanding and distinctive body of work, which we are pleased to commemorate with the publication of this, his first catalogue raisonné, though surely not his last. Emblematic of the artist himself, the character depicted in Think Big looks toward the future, offering a resolute sense of hope and the promise of great things to come.

Ron Cavalier
Cavalier Galleries