The Neuberger Museum of Art Presents the ‘American Vanguards’ Who Defined American Modernism

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artwork: Jan Matulka - "Composition", circa 1930 - Oil on canvas - Collection of Bunty and Tom Armstrong -  © Estate of Jan Matulka. On view at the Neuberger Museum of Art in "American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, De Kooning and Their Circle, 1927-1942" from January 29th until April 29th 2012.


Purchase, New York.- The Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College is proud to present “American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, De Kooning and Their Circle, 1927-1942”, on view at the museum from January 29th through April 29th 2012. On view will be the work of many of the most important American artists who played a critical role in developing and defining American modernism during this vital period between two world wars. From the late 1920s to the early 1940s, many of America’s most inventive and important artists, including Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Adolph Gottlieb, forged their identities, dramatically transforming conceptions of what a painting or sculpture could be. A group linked by friendship and common aspirations, many had shared experiences in the classes of influential Czech Cubist Jan Matulka at the Art Students League and in the Federal Art Project during the Great Depression. Most significantly, they were all closely associated with John Graham (1887-1961), the enigmatic Russian-born artist, connoisseur, and theorist. They, along with others such as Jackson Pollock and David Smith, all drawn together by their common commitment to modernism and their eagerness to exchange ideas, played a critical role in developing and defining American modernism.

artwork: Stuart Davis - "Radio Tubes (Still Life Radio Tube)", 1931 Oil on canvas - Collection of the Rose Art Museum of Brandeis University. © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, NY. American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning, and Their Circle, 1927-1942″ showcases more than sixty works of art from these vital years by Graham and the members of his circle, providing compelling testimony to the dialogue and cross-fertilization that existed during this period in the history of American art. The high level of the work these artists made not only points ahead to their future accomplishments, but also demonstrates that the decade of the thirties, far from being solely a period of depression and retrenchment, was a time of exciting and important innovation.

The exhibition sheds new light on the New York School, abstract Expressionism and the vitality of American modernism between the two world wars, providing a long overdue examination of an important and little-studied period in American art. The exhibition  was organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. The exhibition will be presented from June 9 – August 19 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, then travel to the Addison where it will be on view from September 21-December 31, 2012. Generous support for this exhibition and publication was provided by the Henry Luce Foundation and The Dedalus Foundation, Inc., and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, co-published by the Addison and Yale University Press, and was curated by scholars William C. Agee, Irving Sandler, and Karen Wilkin.

John Graham, Gorky and Davis were together so constantly that they were known as the “Three Musketeers.” The young de Kooning, who met the trio not long after arriving in New York, joined them as d’Artagnan did Dumas’ fictional heroes. De Kooning always credited the “Three Musketeers” with developing his understanding of modernism; “I was lucky enough when I came to this country,” he said, “to meet the smartest guys on the scene: Gorky, Stuart Davis, and John Graham, David Smith, his wife Dorthy Dehner, Adolph Gottlieb, David Burliuk, Edgar Levy, and Matulka — were also part of the inner circle — a cross-section of some of the most remarkable American artists of the period. This inner sanctum of New York modernism was notably diverse. Some were European born. Others were irreducibly American, but they were all drawn together by their common commitment to modernism, their hunger for the information that Graham, who traveled frequently to Europe, could provide, and their eagerness to exchange ideas.

artwork: John Graham - "The White Pipe", 1930 - Oil on canvas mounted on board - 31.1 × 43.2 cm. Collection of the Grey Art Gallery, New York University.  -  At the Neuberger Museum of Art

Graham’s System and Dialectics of Art, first published in 1937, seems to echo their conversations, in the form of a Socratic dialogue probing the origins of creativity, the nature of abstraction, the aims of modernism, and much more. Graham believed that the best of his American friends could hold their own with anyone and in System and Dialects of Art, he listed those he declared to be as good as their European counterparts, including Jan Matulka, David Smith, Stuart Davis, de Kooning, and Edgar Levy. Despite Graham’s close links with so many key figures during the seminal years of American abstraction, little attention has been paid to these important relationships. American Vanguards assembles works by Graham and the members of his circle from the years of their association, providing compelling testimony to the dialogue and cross-fertilization, the common sources and stimuli, that existed during this vital period in the history of American art. The high level of the work these artists made during these formative years not only points ahead to their future accomplishments but also gives the lie to the persistent rumor that American art was provincial during the 1930s. It also demonstrates that the decade of the thirties, far from being solely a period of depression and retrenchment, was a time of exciting and important innovation.

Initiated in 1974 with Roy R. Neuberger’s donation of 108 works of art, the permanent collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art has grown to over 6000 works of uncompromised quality and variety. Featuring prestigious examples of modern, contemporary and African art, holdings include the Roy R. Neuberger Collection of American Art, the Aimee W. Hirshberg and Lawrence Gussman Collections of African Art , the Hans Richter bequest of Dada and Surrealist objects, the George and Edith Rickey Collection of Constructivist art, and American, Mexican and European master works from the collection of the late Dina and Alexander Racolin. The Neuberger Museum of Art continues to collect and exhibit its permanent collection, enacting Mr. Neuberger’s commitment to supporting the work of contemporary artists who examine and expand the ideas of our day. Visit the museum’s website at … http://www.neuberger.org