Americana – Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Wed, 29 May 2019 22:31:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Americana – Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 State of Maine Tue, 30 Apr 2019 05:04:23 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Farnsworth Museum celebrates a group of postwar New York artists who came to Maine for work and pleasure.

Alex Katz, Untitled (Landscape with Cars), circa 1954

Alex Katz, Untitled (Landscape with Cars), circa 1954. Credit: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine © 2018 Alex Katz / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Digital photography by Peter Siegel

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Alex Katz, Untitled (Landscape with Cars), circa 1954 Bernard Langlais, Still Life on Yellow Table, circa 1950–53 Will Brown, Untitled [1953 Ford pick-up], 1968 Red Grooms, Slab City Rendezvous, 1964

Maine’s reputation as a bastion of independence, ruggedness, and natural beauty has drawn thinkers and artists since the 1800s. E.B. White, prominent New York intellectual and author of Charlotte’s Web, among other masterpieces, spent many years living on a saltwater farm there. Elizabeth Hardwick, founder of the New York Review of Books, had a summer home in the state. And painters Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, and John Singer Sargent—as well as many prominent American landscape artists—spent time living and working in Maine.

Now, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Me., is celebrating the works of another group of artists for whom this state had an irresistible attraction: the collection of New York-based avant-garde artists including Red Grooms, Lois Dodd, Mimi Gross, and Rackstraw Downes who flocked to Maine during the summers in the years following World War II. The exhibition “Slab City Rendezvous” (April 13–February 9, 2020), which takes its name from a 1964 painting by Grooms, aims to spotlight these artists and the work they produced—whether created while they were living in Maine or influenced by their time there—between 1950 and the late ’70s.

“The artists are well known, and to a degree, the fact that they’d been in Maine is also known,” says Michael Komanecky, the Farnsworth’s Chief Curator. “But it was the confluence of events that’s notable. For some, it was coming to the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture that first introduced them to Maine. And this was a place where they could enjoy living pretty inexpensively. To enjoy Maine in the summer and have this break from their busy and demanding artistic lives in New York—all of these things came together to result in what is a really important body of work created over a couple of decades.”

What is perhaps most notable about the collection of paintings and drawings in “Slab City Rendezvous” is that they represent a strikingly different style—more realist, more figurative—from the Abstract Expressionism that was taking over the New York art scene at the beginning of the period covered. The larger-than-life influence of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, and Clyfford Still wasn’t always easy to overcome in the city. The artists who escaped to Maine, whether for a single summer or many, Komanecky says, were trying to make their own way, outside of the larger art world trends. “They weren’t driven by an adherence to a way of making art, or under the influence or inspiration of a given artist or teacher.” The result was a sense of freedom and liberation, an opportunity to paint or make art in whichever way felt right to them. At a remove from New York’s highly developed, highly structured artistic circles, Dodd, Gross, Grooms, and the other artists included in the exhibition were able to explore their art in a much more free-form manner.

What is also interesting is that, unlike many artists who spent time in Maine, they were not part of any formal creative community. “They did all hang out together, but this was not an artist colony by any means,” Komanecky says. “Those had existed in Maine since the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but this was much more a case of the artists just finding something they enjoyed here, and they either developed new friendships with each other, or furthered existing ones from their New York days.”

Grooms’ painting Slab City Rendezvous really embodies the atmosphere of this particular time. In it, we see the white and red farmhouse that Grooms rented in Lincolnville, Me.—on the mid-coast just north of Camden—with Gross and other artists. In front of the house is a whole group of artists with their spouses and children cavorting in the yard. There’s photographer and painter Rudy Burckhardt (painting at an easel on the roof); Grooms and Gross; and painters Alex and Ada Katz. “This is one of the emblematic works in the show,” says Komanecky. “The whole cast of characters is there. It really captures the kind of life they were able to enjoy there.”

Another highly notable work is Lois Dodd’s Six Cows at Lincolnville. Dodd, who still has a home and studio in Maine, painted a series of cow paintings during her early summers in Lincolnville, creating unique images that were figurative and yet still incorporated a sense of abstraction. As Dodd said in a 2015 interview with the internet publication Hyperallergic, “I had studied textile design at Cooper Union, so I was thinking about pattern….The subject of the cows answered to that—they seemed to be in a place between pattern and representation.”

Another example of this interesting combination of figuration and abstraction can be found in Mimi Gross’ Night paintings. There are hints of Abstract Expressionism, particularly in the dynamism of the brushstrokes, but “much less than the type of work that was really dominating the critical art scene during the period,” says Komanecky. The exhibition also features aerial drawings by Yvonne Jacquette, several paintings by Alex Katz, and paintings—including a still life—by Bernard Langlais.

In addition to showing how this particular time and place affected these artists and the way they made their art, “Slab City Rendezvous” can also be understood as an exploration of Maine’s role in the development of 20th century American art as a whole. In fact, that’s the Farnsworth’s explicit mission: to celebrate Maine’s role in American art. “Artists began coming here in the 1820s and 1830s, but from about the 1850s onward, there have been occasions when artists of national significance have come here—both in search of a way of life and subject matter that was important to them,” Komanecky says. “It’s Maine’s coasts and rivers and forests, but our people, as well.”

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

William L. Hawkins: A Geographer of the Imagination Thu, 24 May 2018 21:50:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The work of the American outsider artist William L. Hawkins is the subject of a major traveling retrospective.

William L. Hawkins, Red Dog Running #3

William L. Hawkins, Red Dog Running #3, 1984, enamel on board.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) William L. Hawkins, Union Station William L. Hawkins, Statue of Liberty Island New York William L. Hawkins, Red Dog Running #3 William L. Hawkins, Rattlesnake #3 William L. Hawkins, Juke Box William L. Hawkins, left: Neil House with Chimney #2

When it comes to outsider artists—otherwise known as folk artists, self-taught artists, vernacular artists, or any other number of terms that are used to describe creators with no connection to the traditional artistic establishment—one of the traits so many seem to share is a peculiarly strong drive to create. They feel compelled to compile cast-off materials and shape them into something new, to describe the world they see or imagine in visual terms, whether through painting, drawing, assemblage, or collage. For William L. Hawkins, the Columbus, Ohio-based self-taught artist who died in 1990, this need translated into a lifetime of creating bold, expressionistic paintings of landscapes, cityscapes, and animals, both extant and extinct.

This work is the subject of a broad-ranging retrospective exhibition titled “William L. Hawkins: An Imaginative Geography,” which will be on view at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego from June 9–September 3. It includes pieces from every phase of Hawkins’ existing body of work, which spans roughly 10 years (although he created art throughout his long life), and offers examples from each of his favorite thematic areas. The show was originated by the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, and the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ohio.

Hawkins was born in 1895 in Kentucky and grew up on his grandmother’s farm with his brother. The natural world and the animals that lived in it formed an important backdrop during his youth. Hawkins and his brother were responsible for caring for the livestock on the farm, and they shared a strong connection with the animals they raised, cared for, and sold or slaughtered. When he was 21, in 1916, Hawkins left the farm for Columbus and never looked back. He had only a third-grade education, and no formal art training. During World War I he served in the military, then worked in a steel-casting factory, and relentlessly, continuously practiced his art.

Hawkins said he was “born an artist,” but his first known attempts at art-making—as an adult, that is, as he drew as a hobby throughout his childhood—were actually to help supplement his income. During the Depression, he began scavenging cast-off materials, including pieces of wood, that he would paint on with sign-painter’s paint. He sold these pieces to friends and neighbors for small amounts of money, managing to make art pay even when he was just starting his artistic journey. Even in his later years, when he was showing his art in New York and Columbus galleries and placing pieces in museums, Hawkins looked at his work as something with which to make a living and not by any means as art for art’s sake.

Hawkins was “discovered” in 1981 when he befriended the sculptor Lee Garrett, a young artist who had recently moved to the neighborhood where Hawkins lived and heard about him and his work from an acquaintance. Garrett was astonished by Hawkins’ paintings and encouraged him to enter some pieces in the 1982 Ohio State Fair. One of these, Atlas Building #2, took home the first prize in the professional category, although it had been entered in the amateur category.

After that, Hawkins quickly ascended to national prominence in the art world. That same year, he mounted his first gallery show at the Ohio Gallery in Columbus, and in the following year, 1983, he came to be represented by the Ricco Johnson Gallery (now the Ricco/Maresca Gallery) in New York. Museums also started acquiring his work. From the Columbus Museum of Art to the American Folk Art Museum, both regional and national institutions quickly became interested in this self-taught artist, who often used nothing but oil enamel and one single paintbrush on Masonite to create his bold and unusual paintings.

What is remarkable about the pieces in this particular exhibition is the range they display, even though they span only a decade or so. For example, visitors will see eight of the nine known versions of the Last Supper that Hawkins created. They will see not only his well-known paintings but also drawings, assemblages, a rare freestanding sculpture, and some of the equipment he used to create his art, as well.

That’s not to mention an item that true Hawkins aficionados will no doubt be interested in: the artist’s famous suitcase, in which he kept the magazine clippings, photographs, and other scavenged visual items that he called his “research.” He would pore over these images studiously, sometimes incorporating them as collage into his works, and sometimes using them as inspiration for a painting.

Hawkins’ place in the American art world has been firmly established for 40 years, but until now, what his work means in terms of its broad, overarching effects on outsider art and contemporary American art in general has not been studied. With this major retrospective, that lack is now being remedied.

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Grant Wood’s Ride Tue, 27 Feb 2018 19:09:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new exhibition shows the full evolution of a thoroughly American artist.

Grant Wood,  Spring in Town, 1941

Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1941, oil on wood, 26 x 24.5 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1941 Grant Wood, Spring Turning, 1936 Grant Wood, Lilies of the Alley, 1925 Grant Wood, Self-Portrait, 1932/1941 Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930

The Whitney Museum of American Art didn’t plan for its highly anticipated Grant Wood retrospective—“Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables” (March 2–June 10)—to open during this specific moment in our culture. “It’s luck more than planning,” says Barbara Haskell, the exhibition’s curator and a longtime curator at the Whitney. “It just happened that the world that Grant Wood flourished in is so similar to the world we’re living in now.” The exhibition acts as a “springboard,” says Haskell, for conversations that pervade the current moment as they did Wood’s 1930s, such as the divergent concerns of urban and rural life, notions of anti-elitism, and a general reinvestigation of what the country values. Fortuitous as it may be, the show is also long overdue—Wood hasn’t had a major museum retrospective in New York since the early ’80s (a 1983 show at the Whitney, actually) and barely a handful of surveys outside the Midwest since 1935.

Wood, along with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, led the charge of Regionalist painting. A Virgil-like figure, he helped shape the American mythology of the 1930s and ’40s, in part by looking backward to a seemingly simpler, idealized past. He painted scenes of late-19th-century Midwestern farm life that he culled from his Iowa childhood. Though Wood was a bona fide farm boy—he famously said, “All the really good ideas I’ve ever had came to me while I was milking a cow”—his work, with its pristine, rolling fields, endless sunlight, and noble farmers, falls prey to the enduring human folly of nostalgia for a time that didn’t really exist. Far from making it a sham, however, this aspect of Wood’s work is what makes it uncannily relatable; his paintings don’t mirror American life, they mirror the way Americans think about American life.

This month, nearly every painting from Wood’s mature period, 1930–45, will be on view at the Whitney. Many of them will be leaving Iowa for the first time, and the ubiquitous American Gothic (1930) will join them, making a rare trip from Chicago. The painting catapulted Wood to fame after it was first exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1930. Since then, it has been recreated and riffed on endlessly. In fact, it stands to reason that even if one has been living under the proverbial rock, there’s probably a parody of American Gothic scratched under there somewhere. “It’s the American Mona Lisa,” says Haskell, who adds that the museum is prepared for viewers to take a lot of selfies with it. “It’s so American; it’s a stereotype; it’s humorous; it seems real—Wood had an extremely well-honed formal sensibility that gives it a sharp, almost photographic realism; and there’s a sort of mystery about it,” says Haskell. “But it’s not an outlier, it’s emblematic of the other work.”

The “other work,” including The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, a 1931 oil on Masonite painting that entered the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1950, is fairly famous in its own right. Taking its subject from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1863 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” the painting depicts the American patriot and silversmith dashing through a colonial Massachusetts town on horseback. The scene is shown from bird’s-eye-view and illuminated with Hollywood-style spot lighting. Its geometric greenery and block-like houses seem almost like the pieces of an architectural model or play kit. Yet it’s this stylization that makes it seem like such an important part of Americana, as if it were a page in the scrapbook of the country’s history. In Daughters of Revolution (1932, oil on composition board), which travels to the show from the Cincinnati Art Museum, Wood provides a satirical view of American history. It is said that the Daughters of the American Revolution criticized Wood after he sourced glass from Germany, America’s enemy in World War I, for a stained-glass window at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (the window is represented at half-scale in the show). Five years later, Wood painted three models as DAR members in front of a depiction of Washington Crossing the Delaware, a heroic painting created by a German artist. A few critics have also suggested that the three women are in fact depictions of Founding Fathers in drag.

Several of the 130 works in the exhibition showcase Wood’s work outside of painting. Wood began his career as a decorative artist firmly rooted in the Arts and Crafts Movement (these beginnings helped form his view that art is democratic and should be for everyone). His Hanging Lampshade with Peacock Motif (circa 1910–20, stained glass, metal, and wood) reflects the period between 1910 and 1920 when he studied at the Handicraft Guild in Minneapolis, joined the Kola Arts and Crafts Community House, and opened the Volund Crafts Shop and showed jewelry and metalwork at the Art Institute of Chicago—all before moving back to Cedar Rapids in 1916. His Corn Cob Chandelier for Iowa Corn Room, a fixture he made in 1925 that is bound to be a crowd pleaser at the Whitney, shows Wood embracing his home state as subject matter. But his decorative work wasn’t limited to the period before his painting career took off in 1930, as evidenced by his Steuben glass vase, his Spring Plowing fabric design, armchair and ottoman, and the book covers and illustrations, such as those for the Sinclair Lewis novel Main Street.

The exhibition also features several examples of the artist’s Impressionist paintings and commissioned work made prior to the development of his mature style, such as The Runners, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris (1924, oil on composition board) and Market Place, Nuremberg (1928, oil on canvas). Wood traveled abroad four times during the 1920s, seduced by the long-held belief of many American artists that Europe was artistically superior to their home country (later Wood would say, “In time, American art will be as different from European art as is American life. . . . Culture can’t be an imported product”). Though the French Impressionists were his leading influences for the first two decades of his career, the work of Northern Renaissance painters, such as Hans Memling and Albrecht Dürer, began to steer him toward the more detailed and orderly style of his mature period, as seen in the pivotal work Portrait of John B. Turner, Pioneer (1928/30, oil on canvas). A 1921 commission for the National Masonic Research Society building in Anamosa, Iowa, The First Three Degrees of Freemasonry (oil on canvas), is particularly evocative of his art viewing in Europe. The triptych’s three panels represent the three degrees; in its left panel Wood reproduces a 1915 sculpture by a Czech artist, in its right Rodin’s The Thinker, and in its center Michelangelo’s David is doubled to symbolize the duality of man.

The Whitney will showcase examples of Wood’s murals through various means. Three panels of Fruits of Iowa, a seven-panel mural Wood painted to decorate the coffee shop at the Hotel Montrose in Cedar Rapids in 1932, will be in the exhibition. The museum will have original film footage of Wood’s celebrated “Ames murals” at Iowa State College at Ames projected in the gallery. Wood’s monumental figures and the way he depicted the back-breaking work of rural farmers as pure and beautiful were hugely influential for WPA artists. “Artists were imitating his work nationally,” says Haskell. “I’ve found articles that refer to his copy cats as “Grant Wood-ers”—and it’s true, that very crisp style that he inaugurated is in almost all of the WPA murals.”

During the early 20th century, critics were calling for American artists to break free from the European canon and create work that was intrinsically American. Wood was hugely instrumental in shaping what seemed like purely American art during the Depression and the advent of World War II, and reciprocally he felt a sense of responsibility to American culture. “Roosevelt said in a speech to Congress that it was important for the people to defend what they believed. Wood took that to heart and thought it was up to artists to revive patriotism,” says Haskell. Parson Weems’ Fable (1939, oil on canvas), which depicts the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree, was part of a planned series of paintings focused on renewing American folktales. With the rise of Fascism, Wood decided to create a series of paintings that showed fellow Americans what they stood to lose. Spring in the Country (1941, oil on composition board) and Spring in Town (1941, oil on wood), both in the show, were the only two paintings he completed in that series and the last two he made before he died. In both paintings the sun shines, flowers bloom, and the people work.

Lurking under Wood’s Arcadian confections, however, is an undeniable disquietude. “He represents this bucolic world—the ordered fields and Midwestern archetypes—yet there’s this frozen, airless solitude,” says Haskell. “Both these things operate together to give the work an intensely emotional aspect.” Wood was deeply devoted to the landscape of his home state and the imagery of his country, but he was a shy, deeply closeted gay artist. He was successful but also an outsider, which likely resulted in the unshakable sense of alienation and sorrow in his work. Yet, if one thing has been proven through 241 years of culture, social rigors aside, it’s that America holds special regard for outsiders.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Hand and Heart Tue, 26 Sep 2017 17:41:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Gustave Baumann left a legacy of woodblock-printed images of the American landscape that have become iconic.

Gustave Baumann, Talaya Peak, 1924

Gustave Baumann, Talaya Peak, 1924

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Gustave Baumann,, portrait Gustave Baumann, Talaya Peak, 1924 Gustave Baumann, Grand Canyon, 1919 Gustave Baumann, Winter Corral, 1940 Gustave Baumann, Pinon Grand Canyon Gustave Baumann, April, 1930 Gustave Baumann, The Builders aka From My Studio Window Gustave Baumann, Morning Sun

Gustave Baumann, a German-born artist, was one of the pioneers of the color woodcut in 20th-century America. His large-format, ambitious prints, made from as many as seven blocks, have a shimmering beauty that is unique. The rich hues that fill his images—purples, pinks, yellows, and deep blues—interpenetrate to make new colors or give the effect of light passing through moisture in the air or filtering through a canopy of leaves. A Baumann print can also be quickly recognized by the characteristic framing device of tiny dots that serve as a border for the image, and by the artist’s monograph—a stylized open hand represented as negative space within an orange-red heart. The merger of hand and heart speaks to Baumann’s lifelong devotion to craft, his love of his subjects, and his desire to follow his own way, even if it was not necessarily the way to the maximum fame or wealth.

While Baumann produced several distinct bodies of work and also engaged in commercial illustration (for example, a series of advertisements for the Packard Motor Car Company in the 1920s), his subjects were notably consistent over the course of his 60-plus-year career. The landscape was his grand passion, whether it was the Indiana countryside, upstate New York, California, or the American Southwest, particularly the area around Taos and Santa Fe, where he lived from 1918 until his death in 1971. Human beings are not the stars of Baumann’s show; if figures appear in his prints, they tend to be small and faceless, sometimes with their backs turned to the viewer. In this respect his work is reminiscent of the Asian art traditions that were among his inspirations. But the touch of the human hand upon the landscape is very much a part of his work—he dwelt lovingly on the traditional adobe architecture of New Mexico and on the simplicity of Midwestern farmhouses and dooryard gardens.

Baumann was born in Magdeburg, Germany, in 1881. Ten years later, his family emigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago. When he was 15, his father deserted the family, and young Gus had to start earning money. Already showing a facility for drawing, he got himself hired by the Franklin Engraving Company and subsequently worked for several similar Chicago firms. His career in commercial engraving gave him his first education in printmaking, albeit of a very different kind than what he later pursued as a fine artist. By 1901, aged 20, he was doing well enough in the advertising game to open his own studio. But his aspirations lay elsewhere, and he was soon taking night classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1904, the year he became an American citizen, Baumann returned to his native country to study art at the Königliche Kunstgewerbeschule in Munich.

It was there that he was introduced to the medium of woodcut and learned the difficult technique of building up an image from several blocks, one for each color. Gala Chamberlain, the director of Annex Galleries in Santa Rosa, Calif., which represents the Baumann estate, says of his technique at this time: “The colors he used in Germany were very dark and dense. He started with just three blocks and then added blocks as he progressed, changing from a flat effect with outline to colors in layers.” As he matured as an artist, Baumann loosened up his technique, going from a fairly tight effect with detailed line work to a freer style that relied more on pure color and broader fields of ink. At the height of his powers, Baumann was able to balance out the tension between the two poles in his work to achieve the special quality that accounts for his continuing appeal. Jeff Thurston of Zaplin Lampert Gallery in Santa Fe, which carries a large selection of Baumann prints, says the artist’s “combination of creativity and artistic freedom with Germanic technique and precision is what makes him unique.” To imitate him has proved almost impossible, and to this day, he has had very few emulators, according to Thurston, who cites Baumann’s fellow New Mexican Willard Clark as the closest to him in style.

After less than two years in Germany, Baumann was back in Chicago, where he found a group of like-minded artists in the Palette and Chisel Club. In 1909 he and some fellow club members went to join an emerging artists’ colony in Brown County, Ind. While there Baumann produced a portfolio of small prints titled The Hills of Brown (1910), as well as some of the largest-format woodcuts to be produced in America at the time. His career was taking off: In 1915 he exhibited at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, where he took the gold medal for printmaking, and in 1917 he embarked on a cross-country printmaking journey that included Wyoming, N.Y., Provincetown, Mass., and New York City. Some of the Provincetown prints, such as Mending the Seine, have an almost Pointillist quality in the way they render light reflecting off water. In Manhattan, Baumann made a print, Fifth Avenue, that depicts American flags flapping from every building during what must have been a World War I rally. Somewhat reminiscent of Childe Hassam, this is now among Baumann’s most expensive prints, despite the fact that it is not typical of his work. Rarity is the reason—according to Chamberlain, only about 25 impressions are extant.

Baumann’s long and intimate relationship with northern New Mexico began with his friendship in Chicago with the painter Walter Ufer, who had discovered the Taos area a few years before and was among the charter members of the Taos Society of Artists. Taos was gaining a reputation as an ideal place for artists due to its phenomenal scenery and cultural diversity, with Native American and Hispanic communities thriving alongside a growing contingent of bohemian Anglos. Baumann arrived in Santa Fe in 1918 on the way to Taos and decided to stay, because there was less competition there among artists. However, there were also no galleries and no studio space. Help came in the form of Edgar Lee Hewett, an archaeologist and patron of the arts who recognized Baumann’s potential and set him up with a studio space in the historic Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe’s main square. Within five years, Baumann was able to establish his own home studio, which he maintained to the end of his life. In his modest house he made space for a number of collections of objects of regional interest, such as Hispanic santos and Pueblo Indian kachinas. One of his most unusual compositions, Hopi Katzinas (1925), is a representation of his own collection, with the figurines spread out on the surface of a table in way that makes them look like they are suspended in a space all their own. In his house, Baumann kept his dolls on special shelves that he decorated with painted backdrops, like miniature landscapes.

Living in Santa Fe, which was nothing like the international art market it is today, Baumann lacked access to dealers and so had to find his own way to make a living. He ended up relying on nationwide organizations including the Federation of Women’s Clubs, the American Federation of Art, and the Society of Western Artists to circulate his editions and put him in touch with collectors. While he never got rich, he was able to support himself and his family for decades through his art. “He was not financially successful, but he was content,” says Chamberlain. “His wife tried to get people to convince him to raise his prices, but he didn’t want to.” Thurston says, “He wanted them to be affordable, within reason.”

Today, prices for Baumann prints are, of course, much higher—though still reasonable in relation to their quality. Many can be had for around $5,000, and many more in the $7,500–15,000 range. The top retail prices for Baumann prints now are around $35,000, according to Thurston, who cites several that for reasons of popularity and rarity combined can reach this level—Grand Canyon (1934), Procession (1930), Cottonwood Tassels (1946), and Day of the Deer Dance (1919). Robert Newman of The Old Print Shop in New York calls the striking pink-tinged Grand Canyon Baumann’s “most valuable print,” and in general, in terms of subject matter, the Southwestern ones are most sought after. Other factors than can make a difference in price include special features having to do with printmaking technique, such as the aluminum leaf that Baumann used for the sky in Procession.

The fine points of editions can make a difference, too. Baumann sometimes made subsequent editions decades after the initial one, using different colors. Chamberlain, who is working on the artist’s catalogue raisonné, cites a rare first-edition example of Church Ranchos de Taos (1919) with a different color scheme from the later-printed examples one usually sees, and with the image’s negative space rendered differently. Annex prices this print higher than usual. Baumann kept his blocks carefully organized and in excellent condition so that he could continue to print from them as needed, usually in editions of 100 or 125. When Baumann decided that he would not print any more editions of an image, he would retire or cancel the blocks. Thurston says that there is now a market for Baumann’s blocks, which are of interest not only historically and aesthetically but because “they help people wrap their heads around how he did it.”

New collectors should be aware that Baumann’s daughter authorized mechanical reproductions to be made of around six or seven of his images, and these sometimes appear for sale on the internet advertised as originals. The reproductions can be recognized by the facts that they are three inches larger than the originals and have a printed text on the border that reads, “color print by Gustave Baumann.” Since the text is sometimes hidden by a mat, explains Thurston, it is best to rely on the dimensions to make the determination.

Baumann’s work continues to be prized for its beauty, its stunning technique, and its historical resonance. “The inherent beauty is number one,” says Thurston, referring to the reasons for the Baumann market’s vitality. “Secondarily, there’s now almost a 100-year track record. People have grown up with these prints.” Chamberlain says, “I think it’s really interesting that Baumann’s work is so sought after from every region in the U.S. He’s even in the British Museum. A major reason his work has gained such prestige is quality and approachability. I don’t think there’s another multi-block printer who can compete with his quality and quantity produced.”

By John Dorfman

New West Wed, 07 Sep 2016 18:48:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Ed Ruscha’s complex vision of the Western American landscape unfolds at the de Young Museum.

Ed Ruscha, Asphalt Jungle, 1991

Ed Ruscha, Asphalt Jungle, 1991, acrylic on canvas, 82 x 104 in. (208.3 x 264.2 cm)

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, 1962 Ed Ruscha, Pool #7, from the Pools series published in 1997 Ed Ruscha, Asphalt Jungle, 1991 Ed Ruscha, Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, 1963

In John Ford’s 1956 masterpiece The Searchers, the wide frame is utilized to create one of the movies’ most iconic images of existential American individualism in the West: John Wayne silhouetted in a doorway, beyond him the plains, mountains, and sky. In essence, Ford gives us the concrete and the limitless. This meeting of sleek, tightly controlled modern design and expansive poetic landscape echoes loudly in the work of Ed Ruscha, an artist who has also chronicled of the American West, its realities, its fictions, and the place he inhabits at the crossroads where they meet.

The de Young Museum in San Francisco presents Ruscha’s work with a focus on its connection to our national mythology in “Ed Ruscha and the Great American West” (July 16–October 9). The exhibition brings together 99 works and details the artist’s enduring engagement with landscape and the iconography of the West (both existing icons and his own) through multiple mediums and perspectives. The show is divided into nine sections organized according to periods of Ruscha’s career and themes found throughout it. Through these sections Ruscha’s desire to explore the West from every possible perspective becomes evident—from high above (Fashion Square, Sherman Oaks, 2000) to slightly below; from the ghostly past (Bison Study #2, 1989) to the stark present (Filthy McNasty’s, 1976); from behind the Hollywood sign (The Back of Hollywood, 1977) to the fine print (The End, 1991).

Ruscha made his way across the desert from Oklahoma to Los Angeles in 1956, at the age of 18. Along the way, traveling the legendary Route 66, he fell in love with (or at least became fascinated by) the landscape of the Western United States—lonely modern gas stations, distant orange horizons, advertising signage, endless highways, and the time to ponder it all. What Ruscha discovered in his travels was a meeting of new and old America, the counterculture yearnings of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road meeting the opportunistic and freedom-seeking ideals of westward-bound pioneers. Ruscha combined these dovetailing sentiments with a strong graphic sensibility (he worked for the Carson-Roberts Advertising Agency in Los Angeles as layout artist) and found a way to amplify the stark abstraction inherent in the desert landscape and the human perspective at the center of it all.

The history of Ruscha’s color screen print Standard Station (1966) traces the personal, technical journey of the artist through mediums and ideas. It was developed from his 1962 photograph Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, and the casual documentary framing of the photograph is transformed into a colorful pop vision in the 1962 colored-pencil sketch Standard Study, leading to the iconic, graphically intense 1963 oil painting Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas. Three years later Ruscha arrives at the softer, yet still intense, desert glow of the 1966 screen print. The compositions of both the 1963 and 1966 versions are low-angle, evoking the idea of approach, the clean modern oasis rising up from the unforgiving smoothness of the desert through a car windshield. The windshield is the linchpin of the new subjectivity at the heart of Ruscha’s work. By allowing it to be the vantage point, Ruscha acknowledges one of America’s most commonplace symbols of personal freedom—the car. This perspective is uncompromisingly realistic and honest in its approach, dispensing with the Romantic, level, privileged view of the world in traditional landscape and substituting a contingent, partial view framed by the car window which seems to say: Let’s be honest, this is how we really experience America.

The new post-Romantic view of the West was a rich theme for works of art of the 1960s counterculture. In films such as Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider and Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop, the stark blank canvas of the desert became the open space for existential wondering and wandering and the search for “America.” In Ruscha’s work an ironic assortment of pop images becomes the stuff of personal psychology and fantasy—billboards are grafted onto our field of vision and long highway drives are journeys into the mind. During the ’80s, words begins to redefine subjectivity in Ruscha’s work; the human perspective no longer means simply vantage point but also thought and its constant presence. A Particular Kind of Heaven (1983) depicts a surrealistic desert horizon with the title phrase overlaid, floating in the sky, the moment of thinking captured. The mind and the landscape become intermingled. Words appear on top of mountains, pristine icons (the Hollywood sign, for example) crumble, and feelings take form in psychologically charged personal visions.

Ruscha’s work shifts between bringing out the essence of design in the commercial and commonplace ( as in Standard Station) and documenting the mundane and tacky with smirking detachment (Ed Ruscha and some Los Angeles Apartments, The Sunset Strip). Finding a meeting point between his artist’s books and his painting can be tricky, but the common theme is the West, the reality it presents and the dream—in a sense, still Romantic—it symbolizes. In Ruscha’s work there is a journey across the desert to “The End” of the line in Los Angeles, and it’s a grim place to arrive. Ruscha’s take on it echoes those of many of his disillusioned contemporaries. The cheap, desperate facades and apartments of Los Angeles makes one wonder if going back out into the desert, the true place of dreams, might not be the best, most humane decision.

By Chris Shields

Robert Cottingham: Signs of the Times Thu, 25 Aug 2016 01:38:45 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A new show puts decades of Robert Cottingham’s meticulously Realist and decidedly American paintings on view.

Robert Cottingham, Champagne, 1992

Robert Cottingham, Champagne, 1992, oil on canvas, 62 x 62 inches

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Robert Cottingham, Loans, 2014 Robert Cottingham, Empire IV, 2012 Robert Cottingham, Bimat, 1998 Robert Cottingham, Hot, 1992 Robert Cottingham, Champagne, 1992

To say that Robert Cottingham’s painting practice began as a hobby gives the wrong sort of impression. However, it was after the close of his workday as an art director at an advertising firm that Cottingham initially painted. He had graduated from Pratt Institute in 1963, having studied advertising and graphic design, and was working in New York at the firm of Young and Rubicam. In 1964, the artist was transferred to Los Angeles. Within four years, he had given up the advertising racket and was painting full-time.

One look at Cottingham’s work—which has been called “Photorealist,” though the artist insists otherwise (he’s a realist painter dealing with the vernacular scene, like Stuart Davis, Edward Hopper, or Charles Demuth)—and it seems inseparable from his advertising career. Like Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist, who also came from an advertising background, Cottingham seems entrenched in methods of communication. This is expressed not simply by his work’s bold palette or sense of Americana, but because of its ability to convey powerful sentiments with a single word, letter, or symbol. Typeface, too, seems of paramount importance in the artist’s work, with the font in which words are written (or in this case painted) communicating just as much as the words themselves.

But in truth, Cottingham’s work takes on a different sort of advertising than what was typical of Pop Art. Rather than appropriating ad copy or images of mass-market products for sale, much of Cottingham’s paintings focus on the street-level advertising of American businesses: signage. The dazzling marquee of a movie theater, the painted insignia of a railroad boxcar, and the inviting neon signs of diners and bars all find a place in Cottingham’s work. Cottingham rendered his imagery with uncanny precision but often cropped the name on a sign to form new words (such as A.R.T., 1992) or captured a marquee from an unexpected vantage point. Though he began using photographs as initial references in the late ’60s, he wasn’t beholden to the original image and would change the words to accommodate his desired meaning. If signs were meant to easily communicate familiar messages, Cottingham’s canvases were an opportunity to see the familiar from a different, sometimes disorienting, perspective.

“Robert Cottingham: Master Realist” opens at The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, on September 18 (it runs through November 20). Along with an expansive look at work from a decades-long career (Cottingham is still painting today at the age of 80), the show will also put a slice of American visual culture on view.

Jane Eckert, the owner of Eckert Fine Art Gallery + Consulting in Kent, Conn., and the curator of “Master Realist,” says, “To me he is an all-American painter. Signage was such a big part of our country before television and the media.” In the ’70s, Eckert recounts, Cottingham won a grant that afforded him the opportunity to travel from the East Coast to the West by bus. “There were so many old theaters and stores, which he’d photograph as he went across the country,” says Eckert. “To this day he paints from those photos.” Much of Cottingham’s subject matter—the signs and businesses in these photographs—has since been torn down. “He was on the cusp of capturing this part of Americana, especially in the Midwest,” says Eckert.

With Empire, one of Cottingham’s most famous images (one example will be in “Master Realist”), the artist’s paintings serve as an inadvertent means of historical preservation. In the late ’90s, Cottingham was in Alabama for a show of his work at the Montgomery Museum of Art. The director of the museum suggested that the artist go see an old theater downtown, which was built in 1914. When Cottingham went to look at the Empire Theater it had already closed, but he learned that in 1955 Rosa Parks was actually stopped in front of it when police were called to arrest her. Today, though the Empire has been torn down, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum stands in its place. Cottingham photographed the theater, and in 2008, when he was commissioned by Lincoln Center in New York to develop an image for the anniversary of their film festival, those photographs served as his model. For the next couple of years, Cottingham rendered images of the Empire Theater marquee in oil, watercolor, gouache, and graphite.

“Master Realist” will also illuminate the artist’s process, which involves several steps. Eckert says, “Most Photorealists just took a photo and worked directly from that, but Robert starts with a drawing and captures the shading—where lights and darks are—then he plays around with cropping it. He gets close.” After the drawing and deciding on composition, Cottingham does a gouache or watercolor rendering, bringing color into the image. Only after these steps does he move on to oil. “I find his paintings are not as cold as Photorealist paintings,” says Eckert, “they are very tight, but there’s always a little bit of a softer feel to them. It’s the process that makes that happen.”

The show won’t just stop at signage. Other fascinations of the artist will be on display: a series of Arts & Crafts houses in Pasadena, Calif., Remington typewriters, Brownie cameras, and watercolors of colored perfume bottles he made early in his career. But regardless of subject matter, Cottingham’s work, as will be on view at “Master Realist,” never strays from the bold, realist presentation of the image that makes it recognizable. “He’s a graphic designer,” says Eckert, “that’s the thread that runs through it all.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

The Body Eclectic Sun, 10 Jul 2016 17:53:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> As artist and teacher, William Merritt Chase showed how American art could take its place within European tradition while breaking new ground for the future.

William Merritt Chase, Self-Portrait in 4th Avenue Studio

William Merritt Chase, Self-Portrait in 4th Avenue Studio, 1915–16, oil on canvas, 52.5 x 63.5 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) William Merritt Chase, Portrait of Dora Wheeler William Merritt Chase, At the Seaside William Merritt Chase, A Study (also known as The Artist's Wife) William Merritt Chase, Spring Flowers (Peonies) William Merritt Chase, Self-Portrait in 4th Avenue Studio

It was Johann Joachim Winckelmann who first applied the ambivalent term “eclectic” to art. In The History of the Art of Antiquity (1763), Winckelmann proposed a five-step model of stylistic development in ancient Greece, up from the archaic to the high or sublime style, and then up again to the beautiful style. The “imitative” or “eclectic” style of the Romans was the fourth stage, just before the decline and decadence.

The modern tradition, Winckelmann argued, was on the same path. The archaic preceded Raphael, and Leonardo and late Raphael were the high and sublime style. Correggio was the beautiful, and the Carracci, that industrious family firm from Bologna, the eclectics. Winckelmann identified the onset of decline with the blameless late Baroque of Carlo Maratta, who had died 50 years earlier.

We are more likely to see Maratta as an incipient Neoclassicist. This reflects not just hindsight, but also the chaotic course of the arts after Winckelmann’s day. Throughout the Romantic century, the followers of beauty, the eclectics, and the decadents are frequently the same people. Like travelers on one of Thomas Cook’s less successful tours, they jump back and forth across the chronology and the map, and usually in search of the archaic or the sublime.

In this productive confusion of styles, the meaning of “eclectic” changed, and its value reversed. Instead of denoting the implication of Classical styles into late Renaissance paintings, it came to describe a general promiscuity of influence and execution, as in the American version of the Aesthetic Movement, in which restraint in its medieval and Japanese forms disappeared in a welter of rosewood adornment. Instead of denoting taste—“eclectic” derives from the Greek eklektikos, “selective”—it denoted a lack of it.

“His mind was in the best sense eclectic,” William Ewart Gladstone wrote of Homer in 1876, “and he had a strong, ingrained repugnance to the debased.” Fifty years later, eclecticism meant debasement by mass production: elephantine Eastlake furniture, and Strawberry Thief wallpaper by Morris & Co. The Modernists kicked all of this into the lumber room in the name of fresh air and sunlight, even though the roots of Modernism lay in the overstuffed sofas and ebonized side tables. The specializations and subfields of the academy and the art market confirmed this revaluation of “eclectic.”

William Merritt Chase was the great American eclectic of his age. He remained so after he had outlived it, and refused to acknowledge that “eclecticism” had become a dirty word. “Originality,” he argued shortly before his death in 1916, “is found in the greatest composite which you can bring together.” A century later, the originality of Chase’s great composites are starting to be recognized again. So too are the range of his abilities, his centrality to a steam-powered network of trans-Atlantic friendships and influence, and his pioneering of advanced art training in the United States. In Winckelmann’s schema, he was a Roman, an energetic inheritor reworking the sublime style for an imperial age.

“William Merritt Chase: A Retrospective,” now at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. (through September 11), is the first Chase retrospective to be held in the United States since 1983. The exhibition is a great composite, too, with four curators: Elsa Smithgall of the Phillips Collection, Erica Hirshler of the MFA Boston, Katherine Bourguignon of the Terra Foundation, and Giovanna Ginex, who is affiliated with the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia. After moving on to the MFA Boston in October 2016, in February 2017 the exhibition will go to the International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice as the first Chase retrospective to travel—as Chase did so fruitfully—beyond the borders of the United States.

Chase was one of those impossibly energetic and productive Victorians. Like his eclectic English contemporary Frederic, Lord Leighton, he was as eclectic in life as in work: a traveler and a teacher, a committee man and a publicist. Unlike Leighton, Chase also found the time to marry, and father eight children, too. The son of a shoe dealer from Williamsburg, Ind., Chase studied at the National Academy of Design in New York, and then, from 1872 to 1878, at the Royal Munich Academy. There, Chase met the Liebl-Kreis (Liebl Circle), the group of young dissidents around Wilhelm Liebl.

Like their French contemporaries Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, whom Liebl had met in Paris in 1869, and like the French literary Realists of the 1850s, the Liebl Circle aspired to depict contemporary subject matter without sentimentality or idealism. The painting that made Chase’s name was “Keying Up”—The Court Jester. The influence of his idol Velázquez is everywhere in the slightly muted reds and slightly glowing browns, as well as the courtly freakishness of the subject. But the furtive toper who pours a quick glass of wine in order to force out a laugh has a Parisian desperation.

The Jester is not a joke, but a modern tragedy like the alcoholic rag-picker in Manet’s first major work, The Absinthe Drinker (1858), and Picasso’s homage to Manet, Buveuse Accoudée (Leaning Drinker, 1901). He leans over his glass like a red-nosed music hall turn. The little man is mocked by his miniature image: his life is ruled and ruined by the stick figure tucked under his arm as surely as Golyadkin is ruled by his Doppelgänger in Dostoevsky’s The Double (1846).

Manet’s Absinthe Drinker was his first submission to the Paris Salon, and it was rejected. Chase’s Jester, however, won a medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, the year that Gladstone praised Homer’s eclecticism. Returning to the United States in 1878 with a teaching appointment at the Art Students’ League of New York, Chase quickly assumed the role that he would play for the rest of his life. Already a mature talent, and convinced that American art was about to take its rightful place among the inheritors of the European tradition, he became a personal and artistic link between America and Europe—a conduit both on the canvas and in the teaching studio for the experimental ideals of Aestheticism and Impressionism, as well as the traditional technical virtues of an Academic training.

Chase returned with a professional persona, the costume of a dandy maître—the sharply tailored cutaway coat, the carnation in the lapel, the jeweled stickpin in the tie—and a sharp eye for the profession. He exhibited Ready for the Ride (1878) at the newly founded Society of American Artists (SAA). He joined Winslow Homer and Arthur Quartley in the Tile Club, a group ostensibly devoted to the collective painting of tiles in the Aesthetic manner, but practically occupied with the convivial exchange of professional gossip.

In Munich, Chase had collected paintings, textiles, furniture, and bric-à-brac for what would become one of the first European-style studios in the United States. As soon as he returned to New York, he secured the best atelier in the best building in the city, Albert Bierstadt’s double-height studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building. The studio was a social and professional forum, and also a gallery for the display and sale of Chase’s work. He painted amid guests and friends, as if emulating Courbet’s L’Atelier du peintre (1855). The female figures in Studio Interior (1882) and The Tenth Street Studio (1880) are placed like stage properties, their naturalism as careful a contrivance as the drawing room comedy or the department store window.

Meanwhile, outside his studio, Chase was prolific and prodigiously energetic. In the early 1880s, he joined fellow “Tilers” in plein air explorations of upstate New York, and began working in pastels. In March 1884, he contributed to the first of four exhibitions of the Society of Painters in Pastel, of which he was a co-founder. Then, he was off on his annual summer expedition to Europe. Crossing the Atlantic, he exhibited The Young Orphan in the inaugural exhibition of the Belgian avant-garde group Les Vingt, a show that also included Sargent’s Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881) and Whistler’s Miss Cecily Alexander (1872–74). Returning to New York at the end of the summer of 1884, Chase displayed The Young Orphan and Portrait of Dora Wheeler at the SAA.

In January 1885, he became the SAA’s president, a post he was to hold for a decade. He returned to Europe in the summer. After communing with the shade of Velázquez in Madrid, he met Whistler in London; the Retrospective catalogue includes a splendid photograph of the top-hatted dandies Whistler, Chase, and the Whistler acolyte Mortimer Menpes in a London street. Next, Whistler and “The Colonel,” as Whistler had dubbed Chase, went on to Antwerp, where they admired Alfred Stevens’ contributions to an international exposition, and then Chase went on alone to Amsterdam before taking ship for New York.

Somehow, in this period Chase created the 133 works that he exhibited in late 1886, at his first one-man show at the Boston Art Club. His friendship with Whistler ended badly, like most of Whistler’s friendships, but it lasted long enough for Whistler to suggest that they paint each other’s portrait, and for both to complete the work. Chase’s Whistler (1885) is an eclectic assimilation of Whistler’s method: the elongated body, the lively brushwork, the muted palette, the ambiguous and shallow space. Whistler, in his fashion, called this a “monstrous lampoon.” His portrait of Chase is lost; he probably destroyed it in revenge.

This did not stop Chase from further experiments with Whistler’s shimmering, monochromatic color schemes, and lively but indeterminate spaces. Ready For a Walk: Beatrice Clough Bachmann (1885), Lydia Field Emmet (1892), and Portrait of Mrs C.: Lady with a White Shawl (1893) are society portraits for the Gilded Age. Chase, like John Singer Sargent, was an accomplished gilder. In the late 1880s, he moved from portraits of artistic young women to portraits of rich men and their younger wives, and domestic scenes sprung from the world of Edith Wharton and Henry James, like A Friendly Call (1895).

Chase was not just following the money. He had married Alice Gerson in 1887—the tender, subtle blues and grays of the pastel portrait Meditation (1886) testifies that the union was about more than her dowry. She and their multiplying brood of children became his subjects and models, too, notably in at their summer home in Shinnecock, Long Island. He also started painting Impressionist landscapes around this time. Perhaps Chase, like Sargent, chafed at the limitations of the commission in the grand manner, the rendering of small minds as larger-than-life personalities.

At Shinnecock, Chase launched yet another teaching venture, an incubator of American Impressionism. There was now, though, something of the Jester about the artist. He had acquired a taste for schnapps and beer as a student in Germany, and remained a heavy drinker. His liver hurt; on one of his trips to Venice, Alice sent along a bottle of good Scotch for the pain. He died of cirrhosis in 1916.

In 1899 at Shinnecock, Chase and his wife had posed their daughter Helen Velasquez Chase in 16th-century costume for My Infanta (1899). The execution, however, was modern. The artist’s explanation was quintessentially eclectic.

“I saw in a new light the sublime example of Velásquez,” Chase said in 1903. “What was so important for me was that Velásquez—with all his acquirement from the masters who had gone before him—felt the need of choosing new forms and arrangements, new schemes of color and methods of painting, to fit the time and place he was called on to depict.”

By Dominic Green

American Art By Mail Thu, 26 May 2016 17:18:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> How one company brought fine art into homes across the country.

James Chapin, Boy, That’s Tobacco, 1942

James Chapin, Boy, That’s Tobacco, 1942, oil on canvas, 36 x 44 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) A Treasury of Fine Art Masterpieces Created by Famous American Artists to Bring Beauty and Better Living into Your Home. Signature Fabrics advertisement showing Vogue dress pattern James Chapin, Boy, That’s Tobacco, 1942 Irwin Hoffman, El Jibaro, Puerto Rico, 1940 Jackson Lee Nesbitt, Farm Auction, Jackson County, 1947 Berta Margoulies, Pioneer, 1950

Grant Wood’s oil on masonite painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931) can be seen in Gallery 900 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Further downtown, however, at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, the picture is also on view—that is, printed on a vintage piece of fabric (1952). The textile hangs in the downstairs room of the gallery’s current show “Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists, 1934–2000” (through July 9). On it, the painting is reproduced over and over in undelineated row and column. When turned into a pattern, Wood’s characteristically exaggerated perspectives become almost cartoonish, and here his colonial Town Square appears to form multiple blocks of one larger, steeple-dotted city. The effect is almost dizzying—and Revere’s route seems to wind like the Alps-traversing legs of the Tour de France. No fabric seems better suited to dress the bedroom windows of a kid growing up in 1950s America—the type who watched Lassie and played cowboys with a holster and toy gun.

Shortly before his death in 1942, Wood was commissioned by Reeves Lewenthal, the founder and president of Associated American Artists (AAA), to create fabric designs for The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and Spring Plowing (1932), but Lewenthal couldn’t find a fabric manufacturer interested in making them. However, after the rationing of World War II, consumers were thirsty to spend, and well-known artists—such as Alexander Calder, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picasso—began to produce high-end artist-designed home furnishings, including fabrics, wall panels, china, and ceramics. Lewenthal struck a deal with Riverdale Fabrics and released a line of fabrics and drapery in 1952 with coordinating Stonelain ceramics designed by “America’s Famous Artists”—among them, of course. was Wood, who as a recognized name, was a great selling point. The line, titled “Pioneer Pathways,” included seven other designs, all with motifs connected to American folklore and culture. Named after a design produced by Russian-born muralist and painter Anton Rifrigier, the line offered multiple colorways of readymade draperies, bedspreads, pillows, and lampshades or fabric available by the yardage. The collection was given a weeklong debut at Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square, after which it was available at over 100 stores nationwide—a cross-country ride for Paul Revere.

Lewenthal began AAA as an art print publishing company in 1934. In July of that year he met with a group of 23 American artists, including Doris Lee, John Steuart Curry, and Thomas Hart Benton in Benton’s Manhattan studio and developed a plan to commission prints directly from artists and sell them to a wide audience. The company, which effectively did just that until 2000, started selling prints by Benton, Curry, and Wood, who at that time were well established in the art world and known by those outside of it. The prints were priced at $5 (approximately $88 today) and published in limited editions of 250, with the artist getting $200 when an edition sold out.

Early on, Lewenthal’s company benefited from a lack of competition. Artists, whose ability to make money from their work suffered during the Depression, profited from AAA’s production and promotion of their prints. To the middle-class consumer, Lewenthal offered a slice of the American Dream—making it possible to hang a piece of fine art in even the humblest of abodes. Regionalism and the etching revival, which were all the rage at the time, formed the bedrock of AAA’s inventory. Prints like Curry’s John Brown (1939, published 1940) and Benton’s Frankie and Johnnie (1936), which were wildly popular, cemented the idea that AAA was selling the American scene to the American people.
AAA used a direct-to-consumer model, much like the e-commerce businesses of today. The company produced a mail-order catalogue with reproductions of the prints alongside descriptions. The catalogues often teased that print runs had sold out or were about to, hoping to invoke a “better act now” mentality in the consumer. AAA also took out advertisements in periodicals and on the radio and set up displays in
department stores.

All of AAA’s materials promoted the idea that collectors were buying “Fine Art,” and strove to help collectors enjoy their budding collections. The catalogues even ran instructions on the right way to hang art. “AAA promoted its patrons, too,” says Gail Windisch, a California-based collector of AAA catalogues and ephemera who was instrumental in organizing “Art for Every Home.” “There’s a catalogue from 1946 that features a woman from North Carolina on the cover. She’s sitting in her living room reading, and she’s saying to the world ‘I’m sophisticated and educated—I’m reading a book and I have fine art on my wall.’” The photograph was sent in by the woman herself, an AAA collector, and the company, smartly highlighting their prints in action, chose to run it on the catalogue’s cover.

In 1936, AAA opened its eponymous gallery on Madison Avenue (it moved to Fifth Avenue in 1956). There, gallery goers could view museum-quality exhibitions and also buy prints. Says Windisch, “It was the largest public gallery in New York City at the time—it was more akin to a museum even though it was a commercial enterprise. They even had living room furniture set up, and prints on a pulley system, so you could see what they would look like on your wall.” The gallery would also provide framing services and boxes to store purchased works.

Lewenthal, a skilled marketer, used various devices to sell and promote prints. Benton’s mural in the Missouri State Capitol, A Social History of the State of Missouri (completed in 1936), which featured 235 individual portraits, captured the state’s people living and working, suffering hardships and enjoying simple pleasures. Benton received harsh criticism for his depiction of the Midwest, which Lewenthal used to his advantage when selling prints of the mural. “The mural had some images that weren’t positive,” says Elizabeth Seaton, the show’s curator and a curator at the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University (where the exhibition was first installed), “and AAA promoted their editions as ‘the controversial prints from the mural.’” Wood’s Sultry Night (1939), which pictured a farmer in the buff bathing after a long day of work, was banned by the United States Post Office for sale by mail order. AAA had 100 impressions of the image made and sold them at their gallery.

Lewethal also worked with corporations throughout the ’40s. Companies such as Maxwell House and Standard Oil commissioned AAA artists to create imagery for their ads. The American Tobacco Company commissioned 19 AAA artists to produce art for them, including James Chapin, whose painting Boy, That’s Tobacco (1942) was featured in an ad for Lucky Strike. The painting, which features a burly, denim-clad farmer holding a large tobacco leaf, creates an idealized picture of American agriculture.

Acknowledging that Regionalism wouldn’t be in vogue forever, the company began courting international artists after World War II. In 1946, AAA established the Department of Latin American Art, and in 1947 it released Mexican People, a portfolio of 12 lithographs by 10 members of the Taller de Grafica Popular, a group from Mexico City that promoted social change. Around this time, Lewenthal began making deals with consumer goods companies, as with the Riverdale Fabrics and the “Pioneer Pathways” collection. AAA released its first ceramics collection with Stonelain in September 1950. In 1953, M. Lowenstein & Sons produced a line of clothing fabrics with patterns designed by AAA artists. The following year, United Wallpaper did the same thing with wallpaper patterns. Other collaborations, with companies like Steuben Glass and Castleton China, came and went over the years.
By the time AAA closed in 2000, it had published some 2,600 prints by 600 artists. However, its legacy was not well tended. According to Seaton, who eventually borrowed prints from over 25 museums for the “Art for Every Home” exhibition, many museums have AAA prints in their collections without even knowing it. The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art was gifted a collection of about 200 AAA prints from the widow of an insurance salesman who lived in a small town in Kansas. Seaton became interested in putting together a show about AAA.

In 1999, Windisch found a print that came with an AAA biography card (AAA prints often came with cards that provided information on the artist and the piece). Curious about the company, she started purchasing AAA catalogues on Ebay. Later, with the help of print dealers and Sylvan Cole Jr. (Lewenthal’s successor at AAA), she began the arduous task of putting together a catalogue raisonné of AAA prints. Seaton was given Windisch’s name at a print fair in 2007, and in 2008 the two got in contact.

Around the same time, Karen Herbaugh, the curator of the exhibition’s textile component and the curator at the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass., began researching AAA textiles. “A textile dealer brought us a couple of pieces that were AAA in the late ’90s,” says Herbaugh, “and on the selvage, it actually said ‘Associated American Artists, designer, title of piece.’ This was unheard of—designers, typically unsung heroes, rarely get individual credit.” Finding no information online, Herbaugh, used the sparse holdings she could find in the Archives of American Art and in the Syracuse University library, pieced together a presentation on AAA textiles. “When you Google AAA textiles, you see my early presentation,” says Herbaugh. Seaton did just that, and the two curators connected. Slowly, over time, the exhibition began to come together.

When walking through the presentation at the Grey Art Gallery, the viewer is confronted not only by a cache of incredible prints but also by a picture of 20th-century American life: its imagery, its consumerism, and its industry. Lewenthal, an enthusiastic proponent of contemporary American art, was also an incredible businessman. He used all available resources to support his artists or wares. When asked whether Lewenthal would have used the Internet to promote his business, Seaton, who relied heavily on the connecting power of the web to put together the show, said without hesitation, “absolutely.”

By Sarah E. Fensom

Companion Piece Tue, 24 Nov 2015 19:50:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A show at the Denver Art Museum highlights the work of two lifelong friends and fellow painters of the Taos School.

E. Martin Hennings, Passing By

E. Martin Hennings, Passing By, circa 1924, oil on canvas, 44 x 49 inches;

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) Walter Ufer, Me and Him, 1918 E. Martin Hennings, Beneath Clouded Skies E. Martin Hennings, A Friendly Encounter E. Martin Hennings, Passing By

Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings, friends and colleagues who lived and painted in Taos, N.M., in the early decades of the 20th century, are getting a double retrospective at the Denver Art Museum. Today, their work is appreciated mainly as “Western American art,” but as practicing artists they were fully integrated into the wider American art world, and both had been formed artistically in European academies. “A Place in the Sun: The Southwest Art of Walter Ufer and E. Martin Hennings” (December 13–April 24), through 38 major paintings, intends to place these artists back into their full and proper context and to show them in relation to each and to national and international art trends of their era.
Both Ufer and Hennings were members of the Taos Society of Artists, a group that came into being in 1898, when painters Oscar E. Berninghaus and Bert Geer Phillips accidentally discovered the picturesque town nestled in the northern New Mexico mountains when their wagon broke down during a road trip. Eventually the ranks included Kenneth Adams, Ernest L. Blumenschein, E. Irving Couse, W. Herbert “Buck” Dunton, Victor Higgins, and Joseph H. Sharp; the group formally disbanded in 1927. While their styles and subjects differed, these artists had in common a fascination with the region’s unique landscape and Native American culture and a propensity for applying traditional European techniques and styles (with the occasional dash of modernism) to this exotic subject matter.

For Ufer and Hennings, European meant German, and one of the main themes of this exhibition is the tremendous cultural clout Germany had in this country up until World War I. Both men were of German origin; Ufer was born there but grew up in Louisville, Ky., while Hennings was born in New Jersey to German immigrant parents who soon moved the family to Chicago. Both were patronized by a syndicate of German-American businessmen, led by the mayor of Chicago, who subsidized their trips to Taos and collected and helped market their works.

Chicago where was both got their start, as commercial artists, but they yearned for fine art training abroad. Fluent in German, they felt more comfortable going to the mother country than to Paris, the usual choice for young Americans seeking Old World academic training. Ufer and Hennings chose Munich, where they met and became friends as fellow members of the American Artists Club there. The city at this period was a major center of international art study, both academic and avant-garde, and the Munich Secession actually predated the Vienna and Berlin Secessions. Hennings studied with the leader of the Secessionists, the Symbolist painter Franz von Stuck, whose other notable students included Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, and Paul Klee.

Ufer chose the more old-fashioned Walther Thor, an exacting teacher who specialized in portraiture and favored the alla prima method, in which wet paint was layered on top of wet paint, giving the result an especially rich quality but making it basically uncorrectable. The story goes that when Ufer was working on a portrait of a peasant woman, Thor stopped by, grabbed a palette knife, and scraped the whole thing right off the canvas. He explained that he thought it was very good work but wanted to see “if it was an accident.” Ufer was enraged but called the model back and redid it, and when Thor saw the result, he commented, “It’s better than the first—now I know you can paint.”

And Ufer certainly could paint. His large canvases are tours de force of brush handling, brilliant light and color, and unusual perspectives. He loved the American Southwest and especially its indigenous peoples, among whom he found the subject matter that inspired his best work. In 1916 he wrote, “Here, some day, will be written the great American epic, the great American opera. … The very cliffs cry out to be painted. The world in all of its history has never seen such models as these survivors of the cliff dwellers. These mountains are the American Parnassus.”

Nonetheless, Ufer’s work celebrates the everyday, and he always made sure to depict the Indians as they really were in the 20th century, not some romanticized archetype. One of his best works, Bob Abbott and His Assistant (1935) shows an Indian in traditional garb sitting on the bumper of a trashed Reo touring car (Ufer’s own) as the auto mechanic leans against the fender. In the background, negating all of man’s contraptions, loom the snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range. In Me and Him (1918), two Indian laborers with braided hair glare skeptically down at the viewer. Always sensitive to color, Ufer used the Indians’ habit of wearing colorful blankets to populate his paintings with bold hues juxtaposed as often as possible in complementary fashion. His preference for odd angles was a trademark; for example, in Luncheon at Lone Locust (1923), Ufer takes a view that looks as if it had been a photograph snapped in haste and lavishes all his painterly technique on it, a striking incongruity that brings the painting as close to modernism as this artist chose to get.

While Ufer had a long career, his best period lasted just seven years, from 1916 to 1923, after which alcoholism caused him to become very erratic. His friend Hennings was a far steadier worker and a less dramatic character. He is best known for depictions of the forests around Taos, usually with Indians in and among them but basically dwarfed by nature, as in a Chinese landscape. As the curators of the exhibition point out, Hennings’ renderings of trees and other foliage were strongly influenced by Jungendstil (the German version of Art Nouveau), which he had absorbed from von Stuck and the Munich milieu. But that was about as modern as Hennings was willing to get. He called himself a conservative, insisting that there were “fundamentals to be observed, which must embody all the elements of art which I term draftsmanship, design, form, rhythm, color.” And for him, as for Ufer, all those elements came together best when brought to bear on the land and people of New Mexico.

By John Dorfman

American Still Life: The Object is the Subject Tue, 29 Sep 2015 19:02:09 +0000 Continue reading ]]> From scientific specimens to culinary delicacies to mass-produced luxury goods, Americans have always loved stuff, and American artists have responded to that with still lifes in a huge variety of styles.

William Joseph McCloskey, Wrapped Oranges, 1889

William Joseph McCloskey, Wrapped Oranges, 1889 , oil on canvas , 12 x 16 inches.

Featured Images: (Click to Enlarge) William Joseph McCloskey, Wrapped Oranges, 1889 Charles Whedon Rain, The Magic Hand, 1949 Charles Sheeler, Cactus, 1931 De Scott Evans, Cat in Transit Raphaelle Peale, Venus Rising from the Sea-A Deception, circa 1822 Christian Schuessele (Schussele), Ocean Life, 1859

A still life is a synecdoche: a world in miniature, where one part stands for the whole. The intimate and meditative gaze of a still life renders the familiar strange, and the unfamiliar known: a scientific tableau may juxtapose flora and fauna out of season, and a domestic interior may resound with the echoes of great historical events. Reaching its early apogee in the Dutch Republic, the still life was transformed in another commercial republic, the United States. In the Americanization of the still life, no city was more crucial than Philadelphia, the “Athens of America,” the new nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800 and the home of Charles Willson Peale and his talented progeny. Fittingly, then, the first major exhibition devoted to American still life in three decades opens on October 17 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (on view through January 10).

Curated by Mark D. Mitchell, “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life” presents the work of nearly 100 American artists, from pioneers like Raphaelle Peale to masters of parlor trompe l’oeil like William Michael Harnett and 20th-century experimenters like Georgia O’Keeffe and Andy Warhol. American still life was born in Philadelphia twice over—first in the early years of the republic, with the Columbianum artists’ association’s show of 1795, to which Raphaelle Peale contributed eight still lifes; and again in the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, which represented the United States as a collection of objects. In the intervening century, the young nation grew from an agrarian experiment on the Eastern seaboard into a populous and expansive industrial power. American society was convulsed by civil war and transformed by mass production and mass consumption. In the still life’s attention to natural phenomena and human creations, and in the choreographed interplay of the two, we see time capsules of American history that combine to form a uniquely American narrative.

The first of the exhibition’s four rooms, “Describing, 1795–1845,” depicts two kinds of orientation, toward the raw and the cooked—a scientific self-definition amid the natural world and an artistic self-definition in relation to European precedents. The beer, bread, and cheese of Peter Pasquin’s Frugality (1796) are a republican rejoinder to Old World decadence, but the wine and walnuts of Raphaelle Peale’s A Dessert (1814), with its soft interior light and promise of convivial sophistication, is a confident translation of European luxury to the New World.

The prandial scene of John James Audubon’s House Wren (circa 1824–29) depicts a different kind of abundance on the exterior of the dining room wall. In the great outside of the New World, a hovering hen presents a spider to her chicks as, beaks open, they strain forward from their nest while their father keeps lookout. The scene is both natural and naturalistic, a distillation whose subjects, in the words of Alfred Frankenstein, the early historian of American still life, are “perfectly logical” but also “overtly significant.” These winged American fauna live symbiotically with the two-legged fauna with whom they share a habitat. The description implies the narrative; the images of Audubon’s Birds of America speak the language of scientific universalism but relate the chapters of a unique history, the American discovery of America—which was also the remaking of the natural world. Audubon’s Carolina Parrot (circa 1828) is now extinct. His Eastern Fox Squirrel (1843) scuttles nervously down an invisible branch, as if his environment is giving way beneath him.

The transition to early industrial America was so sudden and violent that none of the artists in the exhibition’s first section appear in its next section, “Indulging, 1845–1890.” Philadelphia now vied with Manchester as the “Workshop of the World.” The modern city was also a center of consumption and display. In 1877, a year after the Centennial exhibition, Philadelphia’s iconic department store Wanamaker’s opened; the same decade saw a new city hall and a new home for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the ancestor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Like the Dutch still life before it, the American still life was remade by a surge of affluence and marketed for the private parlor.

The ideal of plentitude could now be achieved by manufacture and the sensual rewards of nature contrived by artifice, like an overstuffed sofa. In Severin Roesen’s floral still lifes, natural objects are gathered in unnatural combinations, like mail order bric-a-brac from the Montgomery Ward catalog, which debuted in 1872. In Edward Goode’s Fishbowl Fantasy (1867), love letters and a lady’s gloves are cast aside, as though in a romantic melodrama. In Robert Spear Dunning’s 1865 Still Life (With Man’s and Woman’s Hands), the male and female hands indulge in the outrageous sensuality of exchanging ripe fruit. Henry James complained about “a flood of lachrymose sentimentalism” in American art, but this was to miss the point. The flood was less the sentiment than the trappings. The great tide of wealth was lifting the boats of the bourgeoisie and surrounding them with new possessions and experiences.

“As a rule,” William Michael Harnett observed, “new things do not paint well.” He preferred “the rich effect that age and usage gives.” Unlike the artists of his era’s Colonial Revival, Harnett did not present antique objects as sentimental tokens of the nation’s infancy. The objects in Still Life With a Writing Table (1877)—a dictionary, a pen, an inkwell, a blotted letter, a map—are worn rather than old. In Mr. Huling’s Rack Picture (1888), with its assortment of letters and calling cards, the meticulous detail of Harnett’s brushwork creates an illusion of physical presence by asserting endurance over time. The symbiosis here is between Victorian man and his favorite possessions. We see a new social environment and his immersion in it.

In another Harnett oil, The Faithful Colt (1890), a single object stands for epochal public events. Loaned from the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum at Hartford, Conn., the painting depicts a Colt .44 caliber 1860 Army revolver, hanging from a nail, against a wall of dark green panels. In the Civil War, the revolver was standard issue among Union troops; Harnett called his model “a genuine old Gettysburg relic.” Veterans and their families would have recognized it from the souvenirs hung on their own walls, but by 1890, younger viewers might not have grasped its historical function. When the 24-year-old art critic Paul Weitenkampf saw The Faithful Colt at its first showing in a New York jeweler’s shop, his response was primarily aesthetic—he commented on the “remarkable clearness” of Harnett’s image achieved by illusionistic highlighting, not on the internecine violence of the Civil War.

As in Harnett’s other paintings, the revolver is only worn, not antique. It hangs by its trigger from a loose nail, as though it might spring loose from the wall at any moment. Its weight and gravity, historical or physical, pull against the nail, pressuring the trigger. The war is perpetually present. Three years after Harnett painted this scene of violence remembered and threatened, Frederick Jackson Turner announced the closing of the American frontier. Yet an object designed for killing remains faithful unto death, even when transposed from the open battlefield to a civilian interior. Is the Colt a souvenir on a parlor wall, or is it still on active service, behind a shop counter?

The exhibition’s third section, “Discerning, 1875–1905,” shows how Weitenkampf’s response to The Faithful Colt reflected an age in which photography had altered the terms of realistic representation. As the Pre-Raphaelites had discovered, truthfulness, the exacting depiction of every nuance of surface and texture, could lead to unreality. Henry Roderick Newman’s Fringed Gentian, a Chromolithograph printed after 1867, is as luridly unreal as a plant can be. And if the arresting of nature was unnatural, an art that advertised its technique risked devolving into the parlor game of trompe l’oeil, as in Jefferson Davis Chalfant’s Which is Which? (circa 1897), which challenges the viewer to discriminate between a real and a painted stamp, set side by side.

The connoisseurs tended to prefer the “ideal” alternative, art that communicated a visual impression or emotional state, such as the ethereal, elegant understatement of the French-trained John La Farge’s Wreath of Flowers (1866). The public tended not to. Harnett’s After the Hunt (1885), one of the last great monuments to the twinned still life pursuits of unregenerate blood sports and unapologetic trompe l’oeil, was exhibited over the bar of Theodore Stewart’s saloon in New York City, in a theatrical setting involving red plush curtains.

Is it possible that late 19th-century trompe l’oeil, by advertising its technique and unnatural trickery, represents the low road to Modernist experiment? At times, the “realists” and “idealists” seem to be feuding over a common inheritance and a shared visual language. La Farge’s Wreath of Flowers uses the same illusionistic devices as John Peto’s The Cup We All Race 4 (1905)—both La Farge’s wreath and Peto’s cup appear to hover slightly over the canvas. Similarly, John Haberle, a dab hand at hard-edged trompe l’oeil, also painted conventional still lifes like the delicately misted A Japanese Corner (1898), here complementing La Farge’s Camellia in an Old Chinese Vase on a Black Lacquer Table (1879). Then again, it is the trompe l’oeil realists who, by challenging the viewer to judge what is real, direct the attention away from the object and toward the subjective gaze, whose life is never still. And that is also the implication of the high road to the 20th-century, Cézanne’s perspectivist still lifes.

The exhibition’s fourth room, “Animating, 1905–1950,” shows how still life, a traditional genre, became integral to the Modernist effort to break with tradition and to reflect a society incapable of stillness. In Max Weber’s Chinese Restaurant (1915), a take-out from the Whitney Museum, nothing is fixed. In Stanton Macdonald-Wright’s Still-Life Synchromy (1917), colors clash and planes collide. In Charles Sheeler’s Rolling Power (1939), the locomotive’s wheels are not a still life in the sense of a dead bird. They are temporarily static, like Audubon’s hovering wren and tremulous squirrel. The photorealist detail of their representation is, like Audubon’s paintings, an attempt to catch life on the wing. In this, 20th-century American artists had a home advantage. When it came to the raw material of still life, no other society had produced so many objects or made them so affordable. And as for perspective, no other technological society was so nomadic or so susceptible to isolation and alienation.

The exhibition’s coda brings the story of American still life full circle with the bright ironies of Pop Art and, more precisely, back to Pennsylvania, with Andy Warhol, whose still lifes are more inert than still. In a documentary sense, Pop Art fell within the lineage of earlier representations of ordinary American life and fidelity to historical experience. Raphaelle Peale’s studio might not have contained the industrial materials of Tom Wesselmann’s Still Life #12 (1962), “acrylic and collage of fabric, photogravure, metal, etc. on fiberboard.” Nor did Peale stock his sideboard with such branded delicacies as Coke and Café Bustelo. Still, Peale’s Cutlet and Vegetables (1816) shares Wesselmann’s documentary impulse to record the raw and the cooked in the kitchen of American life. Similarly, in Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (1964), we can see how Pop inherited what Wanda Corn has called the “vernacular bluntness and graphic clarity” of Harnett and Peto. We might add that Warhol inherited Harnett’s challenge to the viewer’s sense of reality, and his showman’s understanding that in trompe l’oeil, the eye enjoys being fooled.

The materials of still life may be simple or humble, but their truths are not. Like any worthwhile journey, “From Audubon to Warhol” returns to a different place. American still life began in a dual orientation, toward a scientific self-definition amid the natural world and an artistic self-definition in relation to European precedents. These final Pop exhibits confirm a unique trajectory, oriented toward self-definition not against nature or Europe, but toward the modern world of American objects.

By Dominic Green