For the last 25 years, Covert has travelled throughout the United States and Europe visiting the graves of cultural icons. Covert’s process utilizes the cemetery as his studio as he embeds layers of names and dates within coats of paint and oil stick. In addition to this exhibition, Covert is also prominently featured in Club 57: Film, Performance, and Art in the East Village, 1978–1983, opening at the MoMA on October 31.
In 1976, Covert began his studies at the San Francisco Art Institute, only to later drop out and turn to acting. Upon returning to New York in 1977, Covert engaged with various OffBroadway theater companies, such as La Mama Theater, and later, cofounded Playhouse 57 at Club 57 in 1979. Throughout this formative period, Covert was immersed in the ferment of downtown bohemian spheres and spent time with numerous legendary protagonists such as the writer and actress Cookie Mueller, as well as poet and artist Rene Ricard. Both Ricard and Mueller encouraged and championed Covert’s work.
In 1981, Covert gave up acting and began developing his largely selftaught art practice. He began using human skulls as material. Cookie Mueller wrote about these early works in the Saturday Review and in her regular column for Details magazine. Following the reprinting of the writings in a South African magazine, Covert was invited to show in a gallery in Cape Town in 1985. Covert conceived of a new body of work that would critically engage the inhumanity of institutionalized segregation. He responded by paying tribute through grave rubbings of accomplished African Americans, such as Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman. When working with the headstone of Florence Ballard one of the founding members of the Supremes Covert began to add various colors and layering to the rubbings. It is this “Dead Supreme” that spawned Covert’s Monument Painting series.
Works featured in this exhibition are varied and highlight the breadth of Covert’s practice. A large painterly black and white canvas dedicated to Russian virtuoso pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff hangs adjacent to work juxtaposing conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart with Gianni Versace’s murderer, Andrew Cunanan. Canvases devoted to contemporary martyrs such as Marilyn Monroe, Candy Darling, and Brittany Murphy abut members of the Manson family or famous suffragists. Covert’s memorials are the an antithesis of the facile take on celebrity culture that dominates much of contemporary art in this vein. While Covert’s grave rubbings occasionally uncover uncomfortable, dark overlaps, the various iconic personages and histories prevail.