September 13 – December 29, 2002
Throughout the period 1870–1950, American painters were struggling to synthesize the lessons of European masters while still creating images that were meaningful for their own place and time. Over decades of trial and error, an American-flavored modernist vision developed, and this exhibition, drawn from works in the Blanton’s permanent collection, traces developments in American painting during this dramatic period of stylistic innovations and artistic breakthroughs. The exhibition begins with realist paintings by turn-of-the-century artists such as Thomas Eakins, Thomas Moran, John Twachtman, William Merritt Chase, and Robert Henri, whose figure studies, portraits and landscapes incorporate a wide range of responses to the American character. With the Armory Show of 1913, a groundbreaking exposition in New York of the latest experimental European and American works, a benchmark was established for the next generation. Routes toward Modernism next chronicles exposure to the Armory Show, as well as other first-hand encounters with the most avant-garde art of the time. Works by American modernists Max Weber, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Stuart Davis, among others, demonstrate the experimentation with compositional structure, paint handling, and the representation of imagery taking place at this time. While these artists were exploring abstraction, another loosely affiliated group of American artists, including Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Reginald Marsh, Philip Evergood, Ben Shahn, Jacob Lawrence, and Karl Zerbe, were combining vanguard aspects of realism, cubism, and expressionism in largely narrative works. The convergence of these, vastly differing bodies of work— both abstract and representational— constitutes a particularly American strategy toward and interpretation of modernism, and sets the stage for an era of radical new artistic accomplishment that develops in the post-war years.