San­ford Schwartz

The New York Review of Books - - Contents -

Out­liers and Amer­i­can Van­guard Art an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Gallery of Art, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Lynne Cooke and oth­ers Ves­tiges and Verse: Notes from the New­fan­gled Epic an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Amer­i­can Folk Art Mu­seum, New York City Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Valérie Rousseau and oth­ers

Out­liers and Amer­i­can Van­guard Art an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Gallery of Art, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Jan­uary 28–May 13, 2018; the High Mu­seum of Art, At­lanta, June 24–Septem­ber 30, 2018; and the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art, Novem­ber 18, 2018–March 18, 2019. Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Lynne Cooke and oth­ers.

Na­tional Gallery of Art/Univer­sity of Chicago Press, 396 pp., $65.00; $39.95 (pa­per)

Ves­tiges and Verse: Notes from the New­fan­gled Epic an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Amer­i­can Folk Art Mu­seum, New York City, Jan­uary 21–May 27, 2018.

Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion by Valérie Rousseau and oth­ers. Amer­i­can Folk Art Mu­seum, 154 pp., $38.00

In re­cent decades, a tale un­fold­ing within the larger story of con­tem­po­rary art has been our grad­u­ally learn­ing more about, and our try­ing to place, out­sider artists. Prob­lems be­gin at once, with the la­bel. It is a de­scrip­tion that many re­main am­biva­lent about, and of­ten be­lieve should be put in quo­ta­tion marks, to in­di­cate its ten­ta­tive­ness. The sit­u­a­tion some­what echoes the mo­ment, be­gin­ning in the 1920s and 1930s, when folk art was first be­ing taken out of at­tics and looked at anew, and com­men­ta­tors were not sure whether that term—or the la­bels “self-taught,” “naive,” or “prim­i­tive,” among oth­ers— was the ap­pro­pri­ate one or would merely suf­fice. “Self-taught,” though im­pre­cise in its way—it has been said, for ex­am­ple, that most of the sig­nif­i­cant painters of the nine­teenth cen­tury were es­sen­tially self­trained—has re­mained in­ter­change­able with “folk art” for many com­men­ta­tors. It is some­times used in­ter­change­ably with “out­sider,” too. It strikes far less the note of a judg­ment from above.

Yet “out­sider” catches bet­ter the qual­ity of­ten ev­i­dent in the work of such cre­ators of be­ing a sur­pris­ing, or pos­si­bly strange, one-of-a-kind ac­com­plish­ment. Put roughly, an out­sider artist is a fig­ure who makes a body of work while op­er­at­ing in rel­a­tive iso­la­tion, un­aware of, or in­dif­fer­ent to, de­vel­op­ments in the work of pro­fes­sional artists—though this isn’t al­ways the case and it doesn’t mean that such a per­son is un­aware of be­ing an artist. Nor should it sug­gest that an out­sider artist is a spo­radic cre­ator. Many are might­ily pro­lific.

An out­sider artist might be some­one who res­o­lutely, and per­haps ec­cen­tri­cally, wants to live and work only on her or his terms. An out­sider artist might be some­one who has been in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized, or who suf­fers some phys­i­cal im­pair­ment, which keeps the per­son at a re­move from oth­ers. But an out­sider artist, as the term has evolved, might as eas­ily be some­one whose daily ex­pe­ri­ence—as, say, a black per­son in the South—has kept that per­son from hav­ing any real con­tact with the larger cul­ture be­yond his or her im­me­di­ate com­mu­nity.

Out­sider art is largely a phe­nom­e­non of the last cen­tury (as the rich­est ex­am­ples

of folk art date to the first half of the nine­teenth cen­tury), and at this point there are num­bers of such cre­ators whose ac­com­plish­ments we look at with love and ad­mi­ra­tion. Sim­ply to give a sense of the range of such fig­ures I would men­tion Bill Tray­lor, who was born a slave and was dis­cov­ered in 1939 work­ing out of a booth on a street in Mont­gomery, Al­abama. His gift was for find­ing the most pre­cise and el­e­gant way to place his sil­hou­ette-flat hu­man and an­i­mal fig­ures on oth­er­wise empty pages. Twist­ing, run­ning, growl­ing, and ges­tic­u­lat­ing, his char­ac­ters, al­though not part of some larger at­mos­phere, seem nev­er­the­less to con­jure a vast ru­ral uni­verse. The Czech Miroslav Tich , on the other hand, who made some of his cam­eras out of wood, tape, and card­board, gave pho­tog­ra­phy, in shots made mostly in the 1960s and 1970s of the women of his town—go­ing swim­ming, wait­ing for a bus, walk­ing away—a new di­men­sion. He showed how off­hand and blurry a pho­to­graph can be and still be evoca­tive.

In images that, like Tichý’s, present a largely gray-col­ored world, James Cas­tle, who lived with his fam­ily in ru­ral Idaho (and died in 1977), and made his pic­tures us­ing pri­mar­ily soot and saliva, fash­ioned in­te­rior and ex­te­rior scenes that could be lessons in the bal­anc­ing of tones and shapes. In his boxy lit­tle pic­tures and his (even bet­ter) flat sculp­tures of shirts, fash­ioned out of string and ran­dom pa­per boards, the whole world seems as if made over in some raw, scratchy, yet softly mod­u­lated way. And the Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Martín Ramírez, all of whose work was done in Cal­i­for­nia men­tal in­sti­tu­tions in the last thirty years of his life (he died in 1963 at sixty-eight), gives us images that, com­posed of black

par­al­lel lines set against sub­tly sandy back­grounds, sug­gest an epi­cal flow of moun­tains, tun­nels, win­dows, and trains. We see forces for­ever open­ing out and clos­ing in.

Stud­ies of the art of the men­tally ill date from the 1920s, but the term “out­sider art,” which broad­ened the topic to in­clude work by peo­ple im­mersed solely in their own worlds, ar­rived in 1972 with the pub­li­ca­tion of the English writer Roger Car­di­nal’s study Out­sider Art. Since then, and es­pe­cially in the last two decades, an ever-ris­ing num­ber of mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions and aca­demic stud­ies have added to our aware­ness of the ter­rain. There are com­mer­cial gal­leries and col­lec­tors con­cerned ex­clu­sively with out­sider art, and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, we con­tinue to en­counter for the first time work by per­sons who seem to fit the la­bel. Within the last year alone there were ex­hi­bi­tions in New York of the pic­tures of Eu­gen Gabritschevsky, a Rus­sian bi­ol­o­gist who suf­fered a se­vere break­down in the late 1920s and pro­ceeded to pro­duce a large body of beautiful fan­tas­ti­cal draw­ings in a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal, and San­ti­ago Ramón y Ca­jal (1852–1934), a No­bel Prize–win­ning Span­ish neu­roanatomist whose draw­ings of slices of the brain, seen with a mi­cro­scope, form images, at once ab­stract and nat­u­ral­is­tic, not quite like any­thing most of us have seen be­fore.

By a good co­in­ci­dence, two ex­hi­bi­tions run­ning at the same time make clear that the ap­pre­ci­a­tion and un­der­stand­ing of out­sider­dom re­main fluid and ex­ploratory. At the Na­tional Gallery of Art, “Out­liers and Amer­i­can Van­guard Art” gives us not only a new la­bel—“out­liers” in­stead of “out­siders”—but, more am­bi­tiously, and with a cer­tain con­fu­sion, a look at how trained, and pro­gres­sive, artists have re­sponded to out­sider art. At the Amer­i­can Folk Art Mu­seum, the ex­hi­bi­tion “Ves­tiges and Verse: Notes from the New­fan­gled Epic” takes up the sub­ject of out­sider artists who were ei­ther writ­ers of a sort as well as vis­ual artists or who con­ceived their pic­tures as il­lus­tra­tions to on­go­ing sto­ries.

The Na­tional Gallery’s show is the brain­child of Lynne Cooke, who tells us that she be­came in­volved with the sub­ject af­ter see­ing a Ramírez ret­ro­spec­tive in 2007 and a Cas­tle ex­hi­bi­tion two years later. She be­lieves in the im­por­tance of fig­ures who make art that might chal­lenge, or sim­ply go off in its own di­rec­tion from, the on­go­ing cur­rent of pro­fes­sional or main­stream art. But she wants to re­cast how we see these chal­leng­ing fig­ures. In ef­fect, she wants to mod­ern­ize them. She wants us to think of them less as aber­rant per­sons.

Cooke be­lieves, too, that there is a par­tic­u­larly Amer­i­can char­ac­ter to the story of un­trained artists and their in­ter­ac­tion with pro­fes­sional, van­guard artists. She says that while self-taught artists in Europe or Latin Amer­ica are of­ten fig­ures who have been in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized, and whose art stems from their ill­nesses (she does not men­tion any names), in the United States such artists gen­er­ally “ap­pear, against the odds, from ranks dis­ad­van­taged by class, race, eth­nic­ity, and gender.” Pur­su­ing the thought that Euro­pean and Amer­i­can re­sponses have been dif­fer­ent, Cooke notes that “naive ex­pres­sion” has not had much of a part in “mod­ernist Euro­pean his­to­ries”— whereas work by self-taught artists has been wel­comed by avant-garde artists in the States and of­ten used in their own ef­forts. She has in mind, to take one in­stance, the way Elie Nadel­man’s del­i­cately rounded and col­ored wood sculp­tures of fig­ures in so­ci­ety (one is in the show) ap­pear be­holden to folkart wood toys and whirligigs.

It is Cooke who has re­named out­sider artists “out­liers.” It is an as­tute choice and one that may stick. Where “out­sider” has a them-ver­sus-us qual­ity and can sug­gest two sep­a­rate realms of cre­ativ­ity, “out­lier” seems to con­vey that no mat­ter what their train­ing or lack of it, peo­ple who make art are all in­volved in the same en­deavor. Be­sides, the word “out­lier” is, Cooke writes, “un­mis­tak­ably of our era; it sit­u­ates this project in the present.” It be­stows an un­ex­pected hip­ness on these fig­ures. An out­lier, she says a bit ro­man­ti­cally, is “a mo­bile in­di­vid­ual who has gained recog­ni­tion by means at vari­ance with ex­pected chan­nels and pro­to­cols.” What her words mean, it would seem, is less that out­liers are pi­rates on the high seas than artists who are aware of their cre­ativ­ity and de­sirous of hav­ing it known. They are not obliv­i­ous to the world.

Cooke’s dis­tinc­tions are fresh and worth mulling over. But her ex­hi­bi­tion, which ranges in time from two (lovely) pic­tures by folk painters of the eigh-

teenth and nine­teenth cen­turies to art­works of the present—and jumps from work by out­liers to works by mod­ern and pro­gres­sive artists who are pre­sum­ably think­ing about out­liers—is slip­pery, dif­fuse, and not al­ways con­vinc­ing. Even if you are an in­sider you may of­ten not be sure of the ground you stand on.

It is vaguely pe­cu­liar, for in­stance, that one of the early rooms of the show gives us pri­mar­ily pic­tures by folk or un­trained artists that ei­ther were shown at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in the 1930s and early 1940s or are of a piece with those works. The point is pre­sum­ably to in­di­cate how wel­com­ing the pro­fes­sional Amer­i­can art world was in an ear­lier era to non-es­tab­lished fig­ures. Some of the paint­ings in this sec­tion, no­tably by Ho­race Pip­pin and Joseph Pick­ett, are re­mark­able, and Edward Hicks’s 1848 pic­ture of James Cor­nell’s farm is a mas­ter­piece. Grand in size and quirky in its empty-in-the-cen­ter com­po­si­tion, the can­vas is one of a small hand­ful of works that imag­i­na­tively re­think the sub­ject of farms and farm­ing, which was at the core of Amer­i­can life be­fore the Civil War. But many of the pic­tures, whether by French or Amer­i­can artists, and show­ing, re­spec­tively, pub­lic ur­ban life or south­ern ru­ral life, have lit­tle more go­ing for them than their naiveté. Look­ing at them, one won­ders why live­lier ex­am­ples by Amer­i­can self-taught artists were not cho­sen. I am think­ing of the speed­ily drawn and bril­liantly col­ored views of Thomas Cham­bers, say, or, from later in the nine­teenth cen­tury, the un­nerv­ingly finicky re­al­ist pic­tures of home life by Ed­win Ro­manzo Elmer, whose turf was Mas­sachusetts’s Pi­o­neer Val­ley.

There are, though, win­ning works on hand as one con­tin­ues through the ex­hi­bi­tion. It is a treat to come upon a unit of sculp­tures by the stone carver Wil­liam Ed­mond­son, whose an­gels, horses, and other fig­ures, dat­ing from the 1930s and 1940s, are at once ex­tremely chubby and tensely at the ready. The lit­tle-known painter Wil­liam H. John­son, a trained artist who took on a prim­i­tive style em­pha­siz­ing his African-Amer­i­can her­itage, makes a ter­rific im­pres­sion with his Swing Low, Sweet Char­iot (circa 1944), in which the de­scend­ing cho­rus of an­gels are like school­girls of the era, each in an­kle socks and Mary Janes.

But as we check off the works by Ramírez, or Cas­tle, or the pro­fes­sional Chicago-based painters who were look­ing at the art of out­siders, or the re­li­gious carv­ings and as­sem­blages of Eli­jah Pierce or Howard Fin­ster, or the quilts made by, among oth­ers, quil­ters in Gee’s Bend, Al­abama, or the works by con­tem­po­rary van­guard artists us­ing fab­rics in their wall hang­ings, or the draw­ings of Bill Tray­lor, or pho­to­graphs of out­door en­vi­ron­men­tal set­tings put to­gether with left­over ob­jects, or the as­sem­blages, which might be by pros or by out­liers and be­speak re­li­gious or po­lit­i­cal con­cerns—and so on—the fla­vor and dis­tinc­tive­ness of the dif­fer­ent artists get lost. We can only won­der, more­over, why this van­guard artist, but not that one, was cho­sen. The ar­bi­trari­ness felt in the ex­hi­bi­tion’s in­clu­sions is per­haps most strik­ing in the pres­ence of pic­tures by Mars­den Hart­ley, Cindy Sher­man, and Jacob Lawrence. They are the most widely known artists in the show, and a be­guil­ing work of Lawrence’s of chil­dren mak­ing chalk draw­ings on the street ap­pears on the jacket of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s cat­a­log and its poster. But why ex­actly are these artists here? Are they van­guardists who ab­sorbed the lessons of out­liers? If that is the point it is not very clear, at least in the work of Sher­man and Lawrence. Cer­tainly, the three artists can’t them­selves be out­liers. They were all paid sig­nif­i­cant at­ten­tion in their dif­fer­ent eras from al­most the mo­ment they stepped forth. Hart­ley’s very pres­ence makes one ques­tion Cooke’s be­lief that it was

Amer­i­can, and rarely Euro­pean, artists who looked at and were nur­tured by self-taught artists. Surely Amer­i­can and Euro­pean artists were on the same track in this re­gard. When, in 1913, Hart­ley was vis­it­ing Gabriele Mün­ter and Kandin­sky in south­ern Ger­many, he was in­flu­enced by their own in­ter­est in and ver­sions of Bavar­ian folk art. And in his later years, as he con­tin­ued to be drawn to the com­pressed, flat­tened space and the seem­ingly sim­pli­fied, or prim­i­tive, ap­pear­ance of art­works out­side the realm of tra­di­tional mu­seum cul­tures, Hart­ley was lit­tle dif­fer­ent from Gau­guin or Pi­casso, Beck­mann or Derain, Dubuf­fet or Léger. When Léger came to the States in the early 1930s, he an­nounced that the most pro­found im­pres­sion any Amer­i­can paint­ing made on him was an Edward Hicks Peace­able King­dom. And when, at the show, one stands be­fore Hart­ley’s The Great Good Man (1942), one of his por­traits of Abra­ham Lin­coln, the whole busi­ness of how we la­bel and cat­e­go­rize artists flies out the win­dow. Hart­ley’s fig­u­ra­tive paint­ings, done in his last years, are hit or miss (he was pri­mar­ily a land­scapist). But in this pic­ture, based on a pho­to­graph of the pres­i­dent from around 1862 (and one of the trea­sures of Bos­ton’s Mu­seum of Fine Arts), he cre­ated from his feel­ing for the man a tow­er­ing and slightly for­bid­ding im­age. It makes you see why John Ni­co­lay and John Hay, the pres­i­dent’s young sec­re­taries, think­ing of their boss at times as an om­nipo­tent ruler, called him “the Ty­coon.”

Cooke’s fun­da­men­tal point seems to be, as she says in her cat­a­log, that we now have, with main­stream pro­fes­sional artists and the self-taught, a “level play­ing field.” One can have mixed feel­ings about how she has re­al­ized the idea in her show, but her the­sis is one we are com­ing to agree with. It can seem like a sec­ondary mat­ter at this point that Martín Ramírez, say, was a dam­aged per­son. When we look at his images of the bar­ren, echo­ing hills and ravines of Cal­i­for­nia and the Amer­i­can South­west, it is not hard to won­der, in­stead, how they stand along­side works by artists who were not out­liers. Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe put her stamp on the same land­scape, and I may not be alone in think­ing that Ramírez’s pic­tures are the more un­canny, af­fect­ing, and mod­ern. Yet there is a hitch in the thought that trained and self-taught cre­ators ought now to be seen to­gether. Some of the most psy­cho­log­i­cally en­gag­ing, and re­vis­itable, works in the Na­tional Gallery’s show, whether by Tray­lor, Cas­tle, or Ramírez—or by Henry Darger (1892–1973), whose emo­tion­ally berserk and strik­ingly de­signed and col­ored scenes present brigades of lit­tle girls, of­ten with penises, lux­u­ri­at­ing in gar­dens or be­ing at­tacked by ma­raud­ers—are works on pa­per, and such pieces are gen­er­ally not seen for long, open-ended pe­ri­ods in mu­se­ums. They are too sub­ject to fad­ing.

The is­sue, or prob­lem, grows when one adds to the above-men­tioned fig­ures other self-taught artists of the same cal­iber who, al­though not Amer­i­can and not in the Na­tional Gallery’s show, also make mostly works on pa­per. They would in­clude Eu­gen Gabritschevsky, Su­san Te Kahu­rangi King (who is in her six­ties and from New Zealand), Adolf Wölfli (who was Swiss and spent much of his life in a psy­chi­atric clinic), and a num­ber of oth­ers. Why so many ma­jor out­lier artists work largely with pa­per, pen­cils, and pens of dif­fer­ing sorts is no doubt due to the strait­ened life cir­cum­stances some of them have faced. Us­ing pa­per of any kind was the best or only op­tion, and far more than paint­ing in oils or carv­ing in wood or stone, mak­ing a draw­ing has an im­me­di­acy. Though Henry Darger’s wa­ter­col­ors, it is true, called for a process of trac­ing and some­times photo-en­larg­ing, his sys­tem would have taken far longer if he had painted his com­pli­cated scenes in oil. Work­ing on pa­per as he did, he, like these other artists, could see the story in his head made vis­i­ble with some speed.

Given the fragility of pa­per, a con­sid­er­able as­pect of what out­liers do may al­ways have about it, at least on the walls of mu­se­ums, some­thing re­moved, even pri­vate. To go to the Amer­i­can Folk Art Mu­seum’s “Ves­tiges and Verse” ex­hi­bi­tion (or to visit it in its in­for­ma­tive cat­a­log), where most of the works are on pa­per, is to land in a realm of very pri­vate, even delu­sional voices. This is the kind of show that Lynne Cooke’s ef­forts are meant to su­per­sede. One won­ders if, apart from Darger, who is in “Ves­tiges,” Cooke would see the artists in Valérie Rousseau’s ex­hi­bi­tion as be­ing out­liers. They seem more mired than “mo­bile.”

The Folk Art Mu­seum’s show is loosely about the fact that many of these per­sons have pre­sented their ex­pe­ri­ences as sto­ries or run­ning ac­counts of one sort or an­other. In a ledger from a hos­pi­tal, for ex­am­ple, James Edward Deeds Jr., an in­mate, would for a time make a por­trait draw­ing of some known or imag­ined per­son on one page and on the next a lit­tle scene or an an­i­mal that might re­late to that per­son. Other pieces give us charts of num­bers, or of in­vented crea­tures, or of sys­tems that might per­tain to lan­guage. Much of the ma­te­rial is baf­fling on the face of it; but many of the pieces make us linger be­cause they have been drawn in pris­tine and ex­act­ing ways, or have come alive from end­less lit­tle al­ter­ations.

The pages from the diary of Carlo Keshishian, who is English and in his thir­ties, are par­tic­u­larly riv­et­ing. He writes out his thoughts in let­ters so small and tightly placed to­gether that from any dis­tance all we see is a near­air­less mass of tiny black lines, which seems to un­du­late as we look at it. The draw­ings of Su­san Te Kahu­rangi King, which have only be­gun to be seen in New York, are force­ful. She of­ten uses car­toon char­ac­ters in her scenes, but her dis­ori­ent­ing pic­tures have less to do with pop­u­lar cul­ture than with chore­ograph­ing awk­ward, even im­pos­si­ble re­la­tions be­tween bod­ies, which fly into and out of each other, or seem­ingly pull them­selves in­side out. How­ever her ef­forts are la­beled, one wants to see more of them.

Car­toons and comic strips—or a sense of these forms—un­der­lie, fi­nally, the work of the most im­pres­sive fig­ures in the ex­hi­bi­tion, Darger and Adolf Wölfli. For view­ers con­cerned with out­sider art they are among the ter­ri­tory’s old mas­ters. Both have been the sub­jects of books and have been seen, like Martín Ramírez, who is their equal, in defin­ing and rev­e­la­tory ret­ro­spec­tives over the last fif­teen years at the Folk Art Mu­seum. This doesn’t mean that Wölfli, who died in 1930 at sixty-six, is ex­actly an em­brace­able fig­ure. There is a de­gree of flow­ing in­ven­tive­ness and in­dus­try in his pic­tures, which can re­sem­ble fan­tasy ver­sions of car­pets, game boards, or ae­rial views of places, sug­gest­ing that the man was on a dif­fer­ent wave­length from the rest of us. With a seem­ing ef­fort­less­ness, Wölfli makes or­ganic wholes out of com­bi­na­tions of ab­stract shapes, geo­met­ric pat­terns, large curv­ing forms, words, mu­si­cal no­ta­tions, and bits of the Swiss alpine world he grew up in. Thread­ing his way through these mazes is a kind of

comic-strip MC: the artist’s bald, eye­mask-wear­ing, charm­ing yet in­sid­i­ous al­ter ego.

Tak­ing in a Wölfli, a viewer feels that only a bit of it can be ab­sorbed at once, and this hap­pens, too, when we stand be­fore one of Darger’s panoramic scenes. Whether he is show­ing war­fare—with troops at­tack­ing, ex­plo­sions on the hori­zon, and lit­tle girls be­ing ab­ducted and stran­gled—or the artist’s mood is less riled and his sex­u­ally am­bigu­ous girl hero­ines, who are of­ten un­clothed, are enjoying a lit­tle down­time, Darger’s graphic in­ven­tive­ness is over­whelm­ing. The life of his work de­rives from the dis­crep­ancy be­tween, on one hand, the repet­i­tive­ness and strange­ness of his sto­ries and, on the other, the verve and elas­tic­ity with which he laid out his car­toon do­main. Wölfli and Darger are very dif­fer­ent cre­ators, but both worked with scroll-shaped for­mats. Darger did so reg­u­larly, with his hor­i­zon­tal spreads fre­quently eight feet wide. Wölfli used the shape merely of­ten, and he could make his sim­i­larly long, nar­row pic­tures go ver­ti­cally or hor­i­zon­tally. This is how Ramírez, who also made long, nar­row pic­tures at times, did it, too. The point may be a small one. Yet few other twen­ti­eth-cen­tury artists, whether pro­fes­sional or self­taught, em­ployed this for­mat with the same power and con­sis­tency. In time, as out­sider, or out­lier, artists be­come more fully rec­og­nized and known, we might lose our sense that they are, so to speak, a breed apart. Yet there may al­ways be some­thing dis­tinc­tive and un­usual about the feel­ing for long and nar­row shapes as used by Darger, Wölfli, and Ramírez. The scroll form is one we as­so­ci­ate with Asian art. In Western art it can sug­gest pas­siv­ity, the ex­otic, the un­fa­mil­iar, or even just trav­el­ing. It can con­note scenes and sto­ries that go on and on and don’t come to a point. What­ever the form meant to these three artists, they probed its pos­si­bil­i­ties, and in so do­ing they widened the scope of twen­ti­eth-cen­tury art.

Wil­liam H. John­son: Swing Low, Sweet Char­iot, 28 5/8 x 26 1/2 inches, circa 1944

Martín Ramírez: Un­ti­tled (Train), 22 1/2 × 47 inches, circa 1953

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