“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.

American Moderns at The Ringling

June 14 – September 8, 2013
Ringling Museum of Art

American Moderns, 1910–1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell presents fifty-seven artworks from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in an exploration of the myriad ways in which American artists engaged with modernity. Ranging widely in subject matter and style, the fifty-three paintings and four sculptures were produced by leading artists of the day, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Milton Avery, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Rockwell Kent, Joseph Stella, Elie Nadelman, and Norman Rockwell. Significant works by these and other artists in the exhibition exemplify their unique contributions to modern culture.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 2 Yellow Leaves, 1928, Bequest of Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, 2 Yellow Leaves, 1928, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe

“Norman Rockwell Causes an Identity Crisis” by Pamela Beck

This is not a plug for Norman Rockwell, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (or the Scientologists). Like them or not, it’s your choice. But for many people, art appreciation is caught between what people think they should like and what they actually do like. And the two often don’t agree.

Pamela Beck

Pamela Beck

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.


I know you’re out there: Otherwise edgy people who pretend they don’t like Norman Rockwell.

As secrets go, this one’s not in the category of hiding the lovechild you had with your maid ten years ago (hats off, Arnold); and in recent years, more people have begun to view Rockwell as more than a guilty pleasure. But for those whose tastes in art fall unerringly on the side of challenging, intellectually charged work, whose art education and exposure has been vast and varied, admitting that you like Rockwell or art labeled as sentimental can be met with looks of pity, scorn and derision.

Recently I discussed this with a friend who, while she keeps up with all art things current, happens to be a closet Rockwell fan. (I outed her by accident last year when I found a Rockwell postcard on her desk and she had to come clean.) In fairness, she didn’t actually fake distaste for Rockwell, she just never said how much she liked his work in the many conversations we’ve had about art.

The problem we all live with — by Norman Rockwell

We considered what else she felt she had to hide. Does the need to appear what many consider “sophisticated,” extend beyond her aesthetic tastes? Must she hide her undying curiosity about why Katie Holmes left Tom Cruise (and what is it about those Scientologists?) along with her interest in the highly collected French Academic painter, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, often reviled for his paintings of cherubs and pretty girls?

We had a good laugh over this ludicrous reasoning and the insecurity it reflected. After all, we’re adults; we should be able to say what we like despite how others may label us. We should be able to say what we like even if our own educated reasoning says it’s a no-no. Those days of being banished from the high school lunch table for being uncool are over.

But when my friend stopped to think about how often she avoided these topics in conversation, she had to admit that yes, in fact, she did skirt around them in public. “Especially with strangers who would probably think I was a lightweight if they didn’t know me better.”

First impressions are important, there’s no denying that. But if you were seeking to impress someone, wouldn’t you have to know that person very well to understand what would, in fact, impress him/her? These things aren’t black and white, unless you yourself are.

Imagine a scenario where you’ve just met a highly regarded, erudite old master painting scholar you’ve always admired. In the course of your conversation, he tells you he’s enchanted by Rockwell’s iconic American imagery and impressed by his dexterous painting technique.

The New Television Set, by Norman Rockwell, 1949

If you were a secret Rockwell fan, would you feel a surge of relief? (The expert likes him too!) Would you wish you had said that you liked Rockwell first? (He would have known how multi-faceted I am!) Would you admire the scholar’s individuality? (Why can’t I be as comfortable with my questionable opinions?) Interesting to consider our own reactions at such moments and what they reveal about us.

This is not a plug for Norman Rockwell, William-Adolphe Bouguereau (or the Scientologists). Like them or not, it’s your choice. But for many people, art appreciation is caught between what people think they should like and what they actually do like. And the two often don’t agree.

In the unlikely event that curating an exhibition is next on your list, this issue is something you might want to jump on ASAP. As for everybody else, this isn’t a timed race and there’s no door prize waiting for you once you’ve left the gallery, museum or your friend’s art collection. Looking at art often and learning about it, usually helps people feel more comfortable with their own reactions, whatever they may be.

Who knows, maybe the next time you meet that old master paintings scholar, you’ll admit that Rockwell’s work reminds you of a lost innocence you find quite moving, even if you roll your eyes while looking at it. Two contrasting points of view can be true. At least they’ll be your own.


To read more about Pamela, view these links:
http://srxq.blogspot.com/
http://whatdogsreallythink.blogspot.com/

Sarasota’s “ART” Gallery Scene by Joan Altabe

Marketable art in town these days seems to come in four groups: sofa art (furniture store art that accessorizes living rooms, usually abstract), tourist art (palm trees, pelicans, etc.), schmaltz art (stormy skies or sunsets – visual counterparts to winning entries in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, the bad-writing event that calls for a terrible opening sentence to an imaginary novel) and greeting card art (the pussycat-chasing-yarn-balls variety). It’s art of the fourth kind that may be the most objectionable. A quote from a gallery owner makes the point. “I like happy art.”

This gallery owner, like so many of his colleagues, is in the wrong business. Adolf Hitler had the same preference. He restricted art-making to romantic Arcadian rural settings uncontaminated by real life. “Art,” he said, “must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world.”

The Courtyard of the Old Residency in Munich, 1924 - Hitler

Of course, we all have blind spots, but gallery owners can’t afford one about art. If they’re intent on “happy art,” they’re pushing pap. They’re legitimizing schlock.

Sarasota is said to have the highest concentration of art galleries in Florida. Of course, it’s a meaningless statistic. It’s not how many art galleries a city has that counts but rather the kind of art those galleries show. And while their stock looks like art, it’s without art’s soul.

I’m not even talking about copycat art, you know the vaguely familiar-looking abstracts, impressionist seascapes, realist street scenes that are nothing more than mindless knock-offs of the real thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for happiness. But it’s a complex state. Carl Sandburg made the point in his poem about August Rodin’s sculpture of a naked old male, “‘The Walking Man”: Legs hold a torso away from the earth/Power of bone and cord raise a belly and hip/You makes us proud of our legs, old man.'”
See? Rather than ruminate on the deterioration, evident in the sculpture’s missing head and arms, Sandburg took inspiration from the fact the old man was still ambulatory.

It’s not even a matter of happy or unhappy art. It’s just that we need more to look at than a pudgy cat, a bowl of fruit or an antiseptic nude. In a world conditioned by Hollywood, where life tries to copy movies, introspection is missing in all the action. In art, you don’t expect to see adopted positions – happy or otherwise.

Even Norman Rockwell tired of his idealizations at the end: “I was doing this best-possible-world, Santa-down-the-chimney, lovely-kids-adoring-their-kindly-grandparents sort of thing. And I liked it, but now I’m sick of it.” Probably because he knew life was bigger than he was picturing. Even though Sarasota is a resort town, it deserves the big picture, don’t you think?