American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and Their Circle, 1927-1942
Amon Carter Museum of American Art
June 9 through August 19, 2012
On a visit to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, visitors typically expect pieces depicting Native Americans, cowboys and scenic landscapes. But this summer, the museum is doing something a little different. Through August 19, 2012, visitors to the museum can experience American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and Their Circle, 1927–1942. The exhibition features artists with one common connection: John Graham.
Twenty-two works of John Graham are displayed sporadically throughout the exhibit, starting with his earlier paintings and progressing to his late works.
But John Graham is not necessarily the highlight of the exhibit. Although his work is adequately represented, it is his counterparts, artists such as Pollock and de Kooning, who shine in this exhibit.
However, Graham was the one to encourage them as artists and promote the ideas of modernism he learned from some of the highest artists of the day on his travels.
The influence these artists had on each other becomes evident in this exhibit. For example, works by Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning all feature eggs and egg beaters – but none are portrayed in the classical art school sense.
Even though the artists were a tightly-knit group with shared ideas of modernism, several artists stand out for their unique ways of portraying these ideas.
Be sure not to miss Jackson Pollock’s Mask, nothing like the splattered pieces many expect from him. With a face half in shadow and a rich, colored background, this piece is complex and haunting. Pollock’s Bird is perhaps even more intricate. The abstraction leaves the interpretation to the viewer. Do you see a bird, or human faces in the layers of paint?
Willem de Kooning’s Woman is simplistic yet fiercely emotional. His style, which fused Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism, is evident in his portrait of a woman with huge, frightened eyes and reaching fingers.
There are just two female artists represented in the exhibit, but they are not to be overlooked. Lee Krasner, wife of Pollock, has two paintings in the exhibit. The titles of the paintings, Composition and Untitled, won’t tell you much about them, but her use of bright colors, contrast and shape speaks for itself. The other female, Dorothy Dehrer, wife of David Smith, is represented by her painting Still Life. Although less acclaimed, these two women’s talent equals if not surpasses the male American Vanguards.
But the exhibit offers more than just paintings. Particularly striking is David Smith’s Amusement Park. This small, wielded-steel sculpture captures the essence of an amusement park in a few loops and drop-offs. It is simplicity; no more lines are needed.
Near the entrance to the exhibit, an intriguing Calder sculpture sticks out among drawings, paintings and photographs. Alexander Calder, the inventor of the mobile, created this particular mobile as a sculpture of Graham. As the mobile turns, it throws a shadow face onto the wall behind it, giving viewers a shifting perspective of the image.
American Vanguards is a traveling exhibition organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art. The Fort Worth exhibit is sponsored by Bates Container, Frost Bank, and the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County. The exhibition will run June 9 to August 19, 2012.