Shock of the new

An Amer­i­can Modernism

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Michael Abatemarco

New York City’s Ar­mory Show of 1913 was the first ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion of mod­ernist art on Amer­i­can soil, and the city has been as­so­ci­ated with modernism ever since. To­day, per­haps only Paris ri­vals New York as a cen­ter for mod­ernist art. But from 1907 on, one fig­ure be­gan ex­hibit­ing works by Euro­peans in recog­ni­tion of new aes­thet­ics en­ter­ing into the art world, while also mak­ing ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions him­self in the realms of pho­tog­ra­phy. That fig­ure is Al­fred Stieglitz, and he and other mod­ernists — Euro­pean, Amer­i­can, and Latin Amer­i­can — rose quickly in the early 20th cen­tury to be­come giants in the art world. New York was not the only city pro­mot­ing mod­ernist artists in the U.S., but the con­flu­ence there was great: Au­guste Rodin (whose first U.S. show was at 291, Stieglitz’s Fifth Av­enue gallery), Ge­orge Bel­lows, Mar­cel Duchamp, Robert Henri, and An­drew Das­burg all achieved some recog­ni­tion and all were in­cluded in the Ar­mory Show. New York was a pri­mary lo­ca­tion for the ex­change of ideas that drove the var­i­ous move­ments as­so­ci­ated with modernism. But if New York was pri­mary, what was sec­ondary? Could a small con­tin­gent of artists in a ru­ral state also be­come as vi­tal to the story of modernism in Amer­ica as metropoli­tan New York?

The an­swer is an un­con­di­tional “Yes!” That state is New Mexico, where Henri, Das­burg, and oth­ers ven­tured in the first few decades of the 1900s, some es­tab­lish­ing per­ma­nent res­i­dences, oth­ers just pass­ing through. But few were un­af­fected by what they found here, en­thralled as they were by the land­scapes, the skies, the peo­ples and cul­tures. To deny New Mexico its place in the nar­ra­tive would be to deny a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of mod­ernist art. The ex­hi­bi­tion

An Amer­i­can Modernism, which opens at the New Mexico Mu­seum of Art on Fri­day, Oct. 2, makes this clear. The show is a broad treat­ment of the sub­ject of mod­ernist art in the U.S., based pri­mar­ily on works from the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion, but among its many de­pic­tions of place, New Mexico is well-rep­re­sented. “What I’m fas­ci­nated by is this quest to fig­ure out what is an Amer­i­can modernism,” Mu­seum of Art cu­ra­tor Kate Ware told Pasatiempo. “To me, it’s that quest­ing that brings these artists here.” An Amer­i­can Modernism is part of the Fall of Modernism ,a city­wide ex­hi­bi­tion se­ries com­pris­ing shows at the New Mexico Mu­seum of Art, the Ge­or­gia O’Keeffe Mu­seum, and sev­eral lo­cal gal­leries in­clud­ing Gerald Peters Gallery, Matthews Gallery, and Win­terowd Fine Art. The O’Keeffe Mu­seum and the New Mexico Mu­seum of Art are do­ing joint tick­et­ing for the run of An Amer­i­can Modernism and From New York to New Mexico: Master­works of Amer­i­can Modernism From the Vil­cek Foun­da­tion Col­lec­tion, which opens on Fri­day, Sept. 25 at the O’Keeffe.

The ex­hibit is ar­ranged in terms of ideas, move­ments, and in­flu­ences on mod­ernist art, such as the rise of in­dus­try. This last theme is rep­re­sented by Louis Lo­zow­ick’s un­ti­tled litho­graph from 1933 de­pict­ing freight trains con­verg­ing on an ur­ban land­scape, and John Marin’s en­er­getic de­pic­tion of the Brook­lyn Bridge from 1913, “an homage to Amer­i­can en­gi­neer­ing,” Ware said. “Amer­ica is com­ing into its own af­ter World War I and a lot of the Euro­peans, too, are part of this.” Lo­zow­ick, for ex­am­ple, em­i­grated from Ukraine in 1906. Other works in this sec­tion of the ex­hibit in­clude pho­tog­ra­pher Mar­garet Bourke-White’s im­age of fac­tory-pro­duced mu­ni­tions from 1938 and pho­tog­ra­pher Berenice Ab­bott’s City Arabesque, Wall Street, New York, also from 1938, a bird’s-eye view of Lower Man­hat­tan that hints at the city’s im­men­sity. Pho­tog­ra­phy is a strong fea­ture of the ex­hibit, in part be­cause it’s Ware’s area of ex­per­tise along with the mod­ernist pe­riod in gen­eral. Pho­to­graphs by Paul Strand and Ed­ward We­ston fea­ture in a sec­tion of the ex­hibit that deals with the theme of na­ture and modernism. One, a land­scape by Strand, was taken out­side of Santa Fe, but the sec­tion also in­cludes one of Stieglitz’s dark and mys­te­ri­ous im­ages of poplars made near his fam­ily home in Lake Ge­orge in New York. Ge­or­gia O’Keeffe’s

Dark and Laven­der Leaves from 1931, also a Lake Ge­orge com­po­si­tion, ex­hibits a somber color scheme, con­trast­ing with the bright, pas­tel tones of her New Mexico land­scapes. “O’Keeffe didn’t love Lake Ge­orge, but she did that work there and it was about that place: ‘I’m here. This is what I see. I’m trans­lat­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence,’ ” Ware said. “She was us­ing the mod­ernist lan­guage, not just paint­ing de­scrip­tively.” More than 50 works by O’Keeffe are on dis­play in the mu­seum’s ex­hi­bi­tion O’Keeffe in Process, on view through Jan. 17, 2016.

Near the start of the show is a timeline trac­ing the rise of modernism from 1900 to 1940. “It’s to give peo­ple a sense of what was go­ing on in­ter­na­tion­ally in history as well as in art history,” Ware said. “Modernism pre­dates the dates in the show. There’s some pieces from the late 1910s, but it’s pri­mar­ily works from the 1920s and ’30s. That was that time be­tween the wars when Amer­i­can artists were re­ally try­ing to de­fine modernism.”

A cou­ple of the cir­cles that were ac­tively en­gaged by the ques­tion of defin­ing Amer­i­can modernism in­cluded Stieglitz’s and Ma­bel Dodge Luhan’s. Luhan was a pa­tron of the arts who hosted a num­ber of in­flu­en­tial writ­ers

and artists at her home in Taos, in­clud­ing Mars­den Hart­ley and Ansel Adams. “Pho­tog­ra­phers like Adams and Beau­mont Ne­whall were try­ing to con­struct the history of Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­phy. Adams was print­ing glass neg­a­tives of Ti­mothy O’Sul­li­van’s pic­tures of the West and of the Civil War. He was look­ing back and ask­ing what is gen­uinely ours.” Hart­ley, Adams, Das­burg, and oth­ers lent a wild spirit to their ren­di­tions of South­west­ern to­pogra­phies, which could, in the case of Das­burg, be ab­stracted com­po­si­tions. “Ge­og­ra­phy of the coun­try was an im­por­tant pos­si­bil­ity for what could be artis­tic sub­ject mat­ter,” Ware said. Das­burg’s San­gre

de Cristo, a wa­ter­color from the early 1930s, is a land­scape of swirling ges­tu­ral brush­strokes that presages Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism. Its energy evokes a sense of New Mexico’s tem­per­a­men­tal moods. An un­ti­tled

What I’m fas­ci­nated by is this quest to fig­ure out what is an Amer­i­can modernism. To me, it’s that quest­ing that brings these artists here. — cu­ra­tor Kate Ware

An­drew Das­burg: San­gre de Cristo, circa 1933, wa­ter­color; top, Cady Wells: Un­ti­tled, 1938, wa­ter­color; op­po­site page, Mars­den Hart­ley: El Santo, 1919, oil on can­vas; all im­ages cour­tesy the New Mexico Mu­seum of Art

Berenice Ab­bott: City Arabesque, 1938, gelatin sil­ver print; above left, Ge­or­gia O’Keeffe: Spring Tree No. 1, 1945, oil on can­vas; op­po­site

page, Ray­mond Jon­son: De­sign in Flower, 1933, graphite on pa­per

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