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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?
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.
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.”
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:
The Still Life Revisited
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.
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.)
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).
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.
American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell, has been organized by the Brooklyn Museum