Conspicuous by its absence: “Ashcan” in the dustbin = mid-measure for ‘Stuart Davis In Full Swing’ Expo in San Francisco

Davis, StuartStuart Davis, “The Paris Bit,” 1959. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

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After having pilloried recent exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou for being too monographic — the everything but the kitchen sink Corbusier cavalcade was pretty crammed to the hilt for what was supposed to be an homage to a master of efficient space management, while the Paris institution’s Wilfredo Lam show should have turned off the spigot after 1950, when Lam’s tropical jungle canvasses started becoming monotonous — I’m aware it might seem contradictory to complain that the exhibition Stuart Davis, In Full Swing, on view at San Francisco’s de Young museum through August 6 before moving on to Arkansas’s Crystal Waters, omits a vital chapter in the Abstract Expressionist’s career. The omission is important, because unlike the apprentice paintings of Duchamp and Picasso, which only demonstrated that they’d mastered the basics of composition before deviating from them but were not significant for their intrinsic value, Davis’s contributions to the early 20th century fount that was the Ashcan School, starting when he was still a teenager, also prove that his social activism (notably as head of the Artists’ Union) wasn’t isolated from his painterly activity, but sprung from the same well.

Davis’s 1912 canvas “Chinatown,” for example, isn’t just a slice of Lower East Side topography, but a portrait of the desperation driving those women who weren’t going up in flames in locked factory fires into selling their bodies to survive. (The painting is part of the permanent collection of Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of American Art, whose founders identified Davis as one of their core artists around whom they decided to build their stock.) The omission of work from the seminal part of his career that most directly responded to social conditions is particularly boggling given museum director Max Hollein’s declaration that the de Young “has always believed that artists have a duty to comment and critique our culture and we are pleased to show how one American artist responded to the tumultuous times he lived through.” Leaving aside that the ludicrous pretension of this statement is more a reflection of the social-message driven San Francisco aesthetic (and I’m a native) than a directive any artist worth his sourdough starter would take seriously, *having made such a profession of faith*, to then ignore the very work that meets this definition in the exhibition Hollein is putatively promoting is incomprehensible.

Perhaps deserving more leniency is the misapprehending of Davis’s later work by New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl, in his review of the exhibition’s tour at the Whitney last year, as “proto-Pop Art,” perhaps a mis-reading of curator Emma Acker’s statement that Davis’s “appropriation of images from consumer culture and advertising in the 1920s… predates 1960s Pop Art.” In fact, where Pop Art more often than not simply re-envisioned commercial icons as Icons — the only ingredient Andy Warhol added to Campbell’s Tomato Soup cans was his marquee name — Davis actually worked in the opposite sense. Rather than elevating pop “culture” into art, he inserted its ready symbols and recognizable images into his abstract and semi-abstract art to offer an anchor or key which would help viewers identify with the abstractions, perhaps his own manner of resurrecting the ubiquitous key in the medieval Unicorn tapestries on view at the Cloisters museum in New York, where Davis installed himself when he was just 15 years old.

 

Stuart Davis_For Internal Use Only_1944-45

Stuart Davis, “For Internal Use Only,” 1944-45. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Davis, Stuart

Stuart Davis, “House and Street,” 1931. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis_Odol_1924

Stuart Davis, “Odol,” 1924. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis_Egg Beater No 2_1963-64 smallStuart Davis, “Egg Beater No 2,” 1963-64. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis_Salt Shaker_1931

Stuart Davis, “Salt Shaker,” 1931. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis_The Mellow Pad_1945-51 smallStuart Davis, “The Mellow Pad,” 1945-51. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis_Blips and Ifs_1928

Stuart Davis, “Blips and Ifs,” 1928. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Davis, Stuart

Stuart Davis, “Owh! in San Pao,” 1951. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis_Rapt at Rappaports_1951-52

Stuart Davis, “Rapt at Rappaports,” 1951-52. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

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Stuart Davis, “Lucky Strike,” 1921. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis_Visa_1951 small

Stuart Davis, “Visa,” 1951. Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Stuart Davis in His Studio

Stuart Davis in his studio.

 

Want more? Click here to see examples of some of the Stuart Davis works in the Crystal Waters collection.

From the Archives: An American Panorama at the Amon Carter in Fort Worth, Texas

carter 1 hopperEdward Hopper (1882 – 1967), “Night Shadows, 1921.” Etching. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1983.66.

By Paul Ben-Itzak  
Text copyright 2012, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(Like what you read on the Arts Voyager and Dance Insider? We can’t do it without your support. Please donate now in dollars or Euros through PayPal by designating your donation to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address to learn how to donate by check. Your donation will help pay for our arts and dance coverage in Paris and around the world, as well as vital and urgent medical and dental care for AV publisher Paul Ben-Itzak. No donation is too small. This article from our Archives was first published on our sister magazine Art Investment News on December 5, 2012.)

FORT WORTH, Texas — Once upon a time a newspaper man named Amon Carter followed the recommendation of his friend Will Rogers, the great American humorist, philosopher, and actor, and spent about $5,000 on a couple of canvasses by the “cowboy artist” Charles M. Russell. He built his Russell (and Frederic Remington) collection until, by the time of his death, he was able to bequeath it to found the museum which for the past 51 years has born his name and which, by his decree, is always free, because Carter wanted children to have the advantages he didn’t. The museum did not rest on its rawhide laurels, but grew up to be the greatest museum of American art in the world, in both its curatorial savvy and collecting prescience. It chose Stuart Davis as the one artist it was important to represent in all phases of his career, which, following the trajectory of art in the 20th century, took him from the stark literalism of the “ashcan” school to the wildest reaches of abstraction, never losing sight of reality. And, unlike so many museums which follow collecting trends, the Amon Carter anticipated at least one. Starting in the 1960s, it built a photography collection which dwarfs even that of the Museum of Modern Art.

It’s been a while since we’ve caught up with the Amon Carter, so busy has the auction season been. So we’re taking advantage of a breather in art sales to continue your — and our — ongoing arts education, always with a view to making us all better informed art investors, to offer this update in images of current and upcoming exhibitions at my favorite museum. Herewith you’ll find images of work from the current exhibition “To see as artists see: American Art from the Phillips Collection,” on view through January 6; “Marie Cosindas: Instant Color,” running March 5 through May 26, 2013; “Big Pictures,” on view March 5 – April 21; “Romaire Bearden: A Black Odyssey,” May 18 – August 11; and “Larry Sultan’s Homeland,” closing January 13.

carter 1A cowboy

David Levinthal (b. 1949), “[Cowboy],” 1988. From the Five Trails West series. Dye diffusion transfer print. ©1988 David Levinthal. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas P1988.9. From the upcoming exhibition “Big Pictures.”

carter 2 lawrence migrationJacob Lawrence (1917 – 2000), “The Migration Series, Panel no. 3: From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north,” 1940 – 41. Casein tempera on hardboard. ©2011 the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Acquired 1942, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. . From the exhibition “To see as artists see: American Art from the Phillips Collection.”

carter 3 train photoWilliam Henry Jackson (1843 – 1942), “Excursion Train. Lewiston Branch. N.Y.C. RR, 1890.” Albumen print.

carter 4 sloan trainJohn Sloan (1871 – 1951), “Six O’Clock, Winter, 1912.” Oil on canvas. ©2011 Delaware Art Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Acquired 1922, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. . From the exhibition “To see as artists see: American Art from the Phillips Collection.”

carter 5 plumes warholLeft: Walt Kuhn (1877-1949), “Plumes, 1931.” Oil on canvas. Acquired 1932, the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.. From the exhibition “To see as artists see: American Art from the Phillips Collection,” on view through January 6. Right: Marie Cosindas (b. 1925), “Andy Warhol, 1966.” Dye diffusion transfer print. ©Marie Cosindas. Courtesy the artist. From the exhibition “Marie Cosindas: Instant Color,” on view March 5 – May 26, 2013. Both events at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas.

carter 6 davisStuart Davis (1892-1964), “Blue Café,” 1928. Oil on canvas. ©Estate of Stuart Davis / licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Acquired 1930, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Part of the exhibition “To see as artists see: American Art from the Phillips Collection.”

carter 7 corte maderaLarry Sultan (1946-2009), “Meander, Corte Madera, 2006.” Digital dye coupler print. Collection of Andrew Pilara. From the exhibitioin “Larry Sultan’s Homeland: American story,” on view through January 13. (It may not look like much, but I was born here!)

Gender-bender: ‘Entre Nous’ with Claude Cahun (From the Archives)

cahun-1Left: Claude Cahun, “Autoportrait,” 1926. Gelatin silver print, 11.1 x 8.6 cm. IVAM, Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Generalitat. Right: Claude Cahun, “Autoportrait,” 1927. Gelatin silver print, 10.4 x 7.6 cm. Soizic Audouard Collection.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2012, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

(First published on February 3, 2012.)

And what if the artist uses herself as the clay? Not because she’s a narcissist and thinks she’s the most fascinating subject in the world, but because as matter and model, she’s so malleable, and thus an ideal canvas for her own artistic explorations, macro ideas about the culture unearthed on an intimate terrain? This was the case with French-born Claude Cahun in the staged self-portraiture, photo-montages, and prose texts she produced, mostly between 1920 and 1940, more than 80 of which figure in Entre Nous: The Art of Claude Cahun, on view at the Art Institute of Chicago February 25 – June 3. Organized with Paris’s Jeu de Paume museum and co-produced with Barcelona’s La Virreina Centre de la Image, where it continues through Sunday, this first retrospective of the artist’s work in the U.S. reveals a vital source for later feminist explorations of gender and identity politics — to say nothing of how Cahun inspired the Surrealists. In her self-portraits, which she began creating around 1913, Cahun dismantled and questioned pre-existing notions of self and sexuality, at the same time re-assembling artistic ingredients and assembling dreamy mis-en-scenes. Posing in costumes and with elaborate make-up, she appeared masked as various personae: man and  woman, hero and mannequin, both powerful and vulnerable. More than 80 years after Cahun created them, these photographs and their adventurous, unrestrained execution are still pertinent today for their treatment of gender, performance, and identity — and as an example for artists across genres of how to use their small world to speak to the greater one.

cahun-2

Left: Claude Cahun, “Autoportrait,” 1929. Gelatin silver print, 11.5 x 8.5 cm. Jersey Heritage Collection, ©Jersey Heritage. Right: Claude Cahun, Sans titre, 1936. Gelatin silver print, 17.9 x 13 cm. Private collection, ©Beatrice Hatala.

cahun-3Left: Claude Cahun, “Combat de pierres,” 1931. Gelatin silver print, 21 x 15.5 cm. Private collection, ©Beatrice Hatala. Right: Claude Cahun, “Aveux non avenus,” planche III, 1929-1930. Gelatin silver print photomontage, 15 x 10 cm. Private collection.

cahun-4Left: Claude Cahun, “Autoportrait,” 1929. Gelatin silver print, 24 x 19 cm. Musee des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, ©RMN/Gerard Blot. Right: Claude Cahun, “Autoportrait,” 1939. Gelatin silver print, 10 x 8 cm. Jersey Heritage Collection, ©Jersey Heritage.

She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Directed by Lowell Sherman
Shown: Mae West (center)From the series Modern Matinees: Hollywood and the Great Depression, 1933, playing at the Museum of Modern Art February 1 – March 31: Mae West and friends in “She Done Him Wrong.” 1933. USA. Directed by Lowell Sherman. Image courtesy MoMA.

picabiaadamandeve-smallHaving caught his all-inclusive 2002 show at the Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris and reflected that, as with many artists (more recently, Wilfredo Lam and Le Courbusier, both revealed in over-abundance at the Pompidou Center), the oeuvre of Francis Picabia isn’t necessarily well-served by being shown in its entirety (the later works often resemble garish studies based on magazine photographs… as many were), I wasn’t particularly excited about Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction, the monographic Picabia show running through March 19 at the Museum of Modern Art. That was before I saw the above, created in that seminal year of 1911, just one of the 200 works including 125 paintings featured — and definitely not included in the Paris exhibition. Francis Picabia (1879-1953), “Adam et Ève” (Adam and Eve). 1911. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 × 31 7/8″ (100 × 81 cm). Private collection. © 2016 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. — Paul Ben-Itzak

New York Gallery Hop-o-thermia: Fear & loathing in Chelsea

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011, 2017 Paul Ben-Itzak

NEW YORK — Only a true art fanatic with a death wish would walk 50 blocks downtown from his digs on the Upper West Side to the Chelsea Art Valley on a polar night in Manhattan, when the towering buildings on the seemingly interminable blocks between 10th and 11th Avenue make the art voyager feel particularly naked in the Naked City. So there I was — oui, moi — with a scribbled list of a dozen galleries hosting openings Thursday night, in search of high middle-brow art ‘arrosed’ by red, red, wine. What I found was middle-concept middling art watered down by tepid white wine (doesn’t stain like red), with only one artist worth remarking among the 12, this defeated art voyager treading wearily home in his Fort Worth Mexican flea market tan cowboy boots, only to be saved by Joel McCrea riding out of the high country with Randolph Scott riding herd.

To get the rest of the article, first published on February 12, 2011, subscribers can contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Arts Voyager for just $49.95/year ($25 for students and unemployed artists) and receive full access to all Arts Voyager stories and art, including stories archived since 2011. To subscribe via PayPal, just designate your payment to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check, Euros, or British pounds. Subscribe by January 31, 2017 and receive a second, gift subscription for free.

moma-marlene-smallFrom the festival Making Faces: Images of Exploitation and Empowerment in Cinema, on view at the Museum of Modern Art through April 30: Marlene Dietrich in “Blonde Venus,” 1932. Directed by Josef von Sternberg (Austrian, born Austria–Hungary. 1894–1969). Paramount Pictures. Film Study Center Special Collections, The Museum of Modern Art.