“American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell at The Ringling” by Pamela Beck

If you weren’t one of the 900 or so revelers at The Ringling for the recent opening of “American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell,” when was the last time you saw an exhibition including paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Joseph Stella and Norman Rockwell in the same show?

ARTdart: There are as many ways to think about art as there are to create it. Join Pamela Beck in her column, ARTdart, as she explores and considers the different perspectives that define the art world.

If you weren’t one of the 900 or so revelers at The Ringling for the recent opening of  “American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell,” when was the last time you saw an exhibition including paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Joseph Stella and Norman Rockwell in the same show?

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943). Handsome Drinks, 1916. Oil on composition board, 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Lowenthal, 72.3
Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943). Handsome Drinks, 1916. Oil on composition board, 24 x 20 in. (61 x 50.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Lowenthal, 72.3

These paintings and works by other artists (57 artworks in total) comprise this traveling exhibition organized and co- curated by the Brooklyn Museum from their permanent collection.

Joseph Stella (American, born Italy, 1877-1946). The Virgin, 1926. Oil on canvas, 39 11-16 x 38 3-4 in. (100.8 x 98.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Adolph Lewisohn, 28.207
Joseph Stella (American, born Italy, 1877-1946). The Virgin, 1926. Oil on canvas, 39 11-16 x 38 3-4 in. (100.8 x 98.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Adolph Lewisohn, 28.207

Steven High, executive director of The Ringling, describes this time period in our country covered in the show as follows: “Between 1910 and 1960, both American society and art underwent tumultuous and far-reaching transformations. The United States emerged as an international power of economic industrial and military might, while also experiencing two world wars and the Great Depression.”

Max Weber (American, born Russia, 1881-1961). Abraham Walkowitz, 1907. Oil on canvas, 25 1-4 x 20 1-4 in. (64.1 x 51.4 cm), Framed- 30 1-2 x 25 1-2 in. (77.5 x 64.8 cm), Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Abraham Walkowitz, 44.65
Max Weber (American, born Russia, 1881-1961). Abraham Walkowitz, 1907. Oil on canvas, 25 1-4 x 20 1-4 in. (64.1 x 51.4 cm), Framed- 30 1-2 x 25 1-2 in. (77.5 x 64.8 cm), Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Abraham Walkowitz, 44.65

Mindful of the impact these enormous societal, cultural and economic changes had on artists during this particular time in history, the exhibition is divided into six themes:

Cubist Experiments

The Still Life Revisited

Nature Essentialized

Modern Structures

Engaging Characters

Americana

As a result, a broad variety of subject matter and styles can be contemplated and seen on a walk through the Searing Wing. For example, art depicting America’s urbanization and industrialization is displayed, as are reactions to these modern changes—seen in paintings of organic natural beauty. 2Oth century American artists’ responses to European cubism are on view, as are more traditional artworks reflecting American self-definition and identity.

The useful and beautifully illustrated catalogue reinforces this overview and is a wonderful companion to the exhibition. It parallels the curators’ choice to present the multi-faceted American Modern artist sensibility through thought provoking thematic commonalities and contrasts rather than dry chronological order.

Matthew McLendon, The Ringling’s curator of modern and contemporary art says what excites him about this exhibition is “seeing, in a very condensed way, the enormous amount of innovation, evolution and productivity in the American art scene during this time.”

This is a diverse group of artists. And while it’s wonderful to see “old friends” exhibited together, the inclusion of work by unfamiliar or lesser-known artists adds a welcome element of surprise.

George Copeland Ault (American, 1891-1948). Manhattan Mosaic, 1947. Oil on canvas, 31 7-8 x 18 in. (81 x 45.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 66.127
George Copeland Ault (American, 1891-1948). Manhattan Mosaic, 1947. Oil on canvas, 31 7-8 x 18 in. (81 x 45.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, 66.127

But the old favorites don’t disappoint. From the exuberant splashes of bold color, controlled energy and hard-edged shapes of Stuart Davis, and the powerfully charged, course canvases of intense color and simple forms of Marsden Hartley (which somehow always feel like self-portraits whether they’re of a bird or a glass), to the up-close-and-personal Georgia O’Keefe—you’ll recognize the work of many artists from across a crowded room. (This speaks volumes about the personal “thumbprint” of every artist.)

 

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943). Summer Clouds and Flowers, 1942. Oil on fabricated board, 22 x 28 in. (55.9 x 71.1 cm). © Estate of Marsden Hartley, Yale University
Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943). Summer Clouds and Flowers, 1942. Oil on fabricated board, 22 x 28 in. (55.9 x 71.1 cm). © Estate of Marsden Hartley, Yale University

For O’Keeffe fans, the inclusion of two unusual choices is interesting to note:  “Green, Yellow and Orange,” a completely abstract painting, and “Fishhook from Hawaii,” a wonderful work with imagery created for a Dole Pineapple Company ad campaign which O’Keeffe worked on (while experiencing financial hardship during the Great Depression). The telescoping effect created by the loops of wire, and the oversized feathery fish lure, play beautifully with space, color and optical illusion (not illustrated here).

Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887-1986). Green, Yellow and Orange, 1960. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe, 87.136.3
Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986). Green, Yellow and Orange, 1960. Oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe, 87.136.3

We’re fortunate The Ringling has brought in an exhibition to expose viewers to a period of American art not substantially represented in the museum’s permanent collection.

It’s all the more impressive that this exciting show takes place during our supposedly “slow” Sarasota summer months, yet had the biggest turnout on a members’ opening night in The Ringling’s history.

When you see the exhibition yourself, you’ll know why.

 

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

“American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell”

June 14- Sept. 8, 2013

5401 Bay Shore Rd.

Sarasota

941 359-5700

www.ringling.org

 

American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell, has been organized by the Brooklyn Museum

Pamela Beck
Pamela Beck

Pamela co-owned Pannonia Galleries in NYC. There she was also an art appraiser, private art dealer, art fair exhibitor and catalogued paintings at Sotheby’s. Perhaps it’s not surprising that she is also a psychotherapist. She has a keen interest in the arts and supporting Sarasota’s future as a lively, diverse and forward thinking city for young and old. Pamela is a member of The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Curatorial & Acquisitions Committee and Institute for the Ages Volunteer.

Open Letter to “Occupy Sarasota” – From Joan Altabe

You want Sarasota to join the Occupy Wall Street movement and be the first art community to make a stand through art?

You want Sarasota to join the Occupy Wall Street movement and be the first art community to make a stand through art?

You ask a lot.

Sarasota is not known for making art relevant to our times. We don’t do social and political issues. We do palm trees, pelicans and other pleasure-seeking pictures. We do the stuff of Matisse, who sought to make art “devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter…a palliative, a mental soother, something similar to a good armchair that does away with the strain of his physical fatigues,”

Matisseville, that’s Sarasota. We’re like the French Impressionists, who ignored the world they lived in. When you think of how Napoleon led his people into a ruinous defeat in the Franco-Prussian war and how the poor lived on horsemeat, the air of detachment in their painting is maddening.

You know those wide Paris street scenes in Pissarro’s “Boulevard Montmartre” or Monet’s “Boulevard des Capucines”? Napoleon widened those boulevards so he could quickly dispatch troops into them if there were an uprising. Such was the tenor of the time. What did Monet and Pissarro do? They ran off to London and painted parks.
Isn’t that us?

Where are our Social Realists? Granted, the movement arose in the ’30s, during the Great Depression, but have you checked in with the outside world lately?

“You can’t disregard the whole world for some silly paint spots,” said Social Realist Jack Levine in 1955. Social Realist Ben Shahn said something similar: “There are just two things to paint – the things you are very strongly for and the things you are very strongly against.”
Shahn made this remark in 1973. That and Levine’s statement in the ’50s suggests that you don’t have to be an artist during the Great Depression to be a Social Realist.

Isn’t it time for Sarasota artists to quit the parallel universe they live in and provide us signs of our time?

Illustrated by Joan Altabe