Louis Bosa, The End of the Festival (detail), ca. 1948. Oil on canvas. University of Illinois purchase through the Festival of Arts Purchase Fund. 1949-5-1
Louis Bosa, The End of the Festival, ca. 1948. Oil on canvas. University of Illinois purchase through the Festival of Arts Purchase Fund. 1949-5-1
Louis Bosa, The End of the Festival (detail), ca. 1948. Oil on canvas. University of Illinois purchase through the Festival of Arts Purchase Fund. 1949-5-1

Louis Bosa (1905-1981) was born in the small village of Codroipo, Italy. Growing up he worked as a steel worker, but his increasing interest in painting brought him to the Accademia della Belle Arti in Venice. Bosa moved to the U.S. in 1923 and attended the Art Students League in New York, where he would study under John Sloan. Sloan’s penchant for active, urban vignettes seems to have influenced Bosa, whose early work often depicted the scenes of New York street life.

After his studies, Bosa went on to teach at the Art Students League, and later the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA). In the 1960s, pressure from the Cleveland Museum of Art to emphasize abstract contemporary painting caused controversy with representational painters (like Bosa) at the university. For his unwillingness to “capitulate to artistic prejudices,” Bosa was awarded by his peers a ‘Lead Chicken Award’ in 1970 — the first of many given to non-conforming artists in the region.

It is clear, however, that during his life the momentous abstract expressionist movement cast an obscuring shadow over Bosa. Though he was friends with popular New York painters like Jackson Pollock, his work remained an independent, and unlauded, venture into expression — as one critic observed, he developed a “highly individual philosophy,” one with its own “vital and intelligible” language.

Yet, close attention to The End of the Festival, ca. 1948 in Krannert Art Museum’s collection, reveals the influence of, or perhaps even communication with, the work of his contemporaries. If abstract expressionists were in part concerned with the physical process of generating painting and various techniques used to elicit meaning, Bosa’s oeuvre explores how to create symbolic meaning through both formal and narrative elements.

This particular work emphasizes Bosa’s semiotic play, delicately prodding at the ambiguities of representational painting. Describing a similar scene in his autobiography, Bosa notes that he was “moved” by men “lifting the symbol of a cross, but it was not a cross, it was just a two-by-four.”

The tension he marks, and the particular metaphor, is pertinent. Two perpendicular planks draped with a large yellow cloth suggests catholic iconography, and yet the same planks form a scene of Calvary — the steeple crucifix centered between the two cross-shaped banners, one of which bearing a white cross.

Other objects, as if through simile approximating the symbolic, are scattered throughout; a bus stop sign and newspaper like a moon over a mountain, or a white apron above a man’s head like a chef’s toque. Bosa also incorporates nonrepresentational elements, be it through faded abstract paintings on the sides of buildings, or geometric forms on street signs and banners.

Throughout his career, Bosa was fascinated with spectacles and their ability to dramatize human experience. However, just as it captures a liminal space in the symbolic register, The End of the Festival’s drama exists in a place partly between spectacle and quotidian reality.

The “actors” in the foreground of his dramatic space are idiosyncratic and human, and though their action draws attention — even from other figures in the background — two figures on the left remind us they too can look. Two nuns peering over the spectacle, standing near the roof of the distant gray church, exemplify Bosa’s lifelong interest in religious figures and the “shapes and moods they create.”

Concentric frames instantiate layers of narrative, and playfully deconstruct techniques for cordoning dramatic space. The drama of the market, and the conversation within, is roughly contained within a green-wood frame. A step back reveals another, larger wooden frame, but now, the ‘actors’ are dismantling the ‘stage’; in this outer register, it is the deconstruction of narrative framing which constitutes the drama.


Author: Lukas Angelus, English (BA '24), curatorial intern in Modern and Contemporary Art