Leslie Rankow Fine Arts

INTERNATIONAL ART ADVISORY SERVICE

Tag: Folk Art

Avis Berman, curator and writer, documents the radical transformations of 20th Century American Modernism

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), Semé, 1953. Oil on canvas, 52 × 40 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), Semé, 1953. Oil on canvas, 52 × 40 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN  ART, CELEBRATING ITS FIRST ANNIVERSARY IN ITS GLORIOUS NEW RENZO PIANO BUILDING AT THE BASE OF THE HIGH LINE, OPENS STUART DAVIS: IN FULL SWING, ON JUNE 10th. STUART DAVIS WAS A REVOLUTIONARY MODERNIST ARTIST FIRST TO APPROPRIATE IMAGES FROM THE WORLD OF ADVERTISING INTO HIS PAINTINGS. HE CREATED AN ART THAT MERGED EUROPEAN AVANT-GARDE ABSTRACTION WITH THE ENERGY OF FAMILIAR AMERICAN SIGNS AND SYMBOLS , THUS SETTING THE STAGE FOR JASPER JOHNS, ED RUSCHA, BARBARA KRUGER AND COUNTLESS “WORD AND IMAGE” ARTISTS WHO FOLLOWED.

http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/StuartDavis

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), Owh! in San Paõ, 1951. Oil on canvas 52 1/4 × 41 3/4 in. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Stuart Davis (1892–1964), Owh! in San Paõ, 1951.
Oil on canvas
52 1/4 × 41 3/4 in.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

THIS WILL BE THE MOST RECENT OF MANY EXHIBITIONS, IN BOTH MAJOR MUSEUMS SUCH AS THE WHITNEY AND MORE MODEST REGIONAL AND UNIVERSITY  MUSEUM VENUES THAT FOCUS ON THE TRANSFORMATIVE PERIOD OF MODERNIST AMERICAN ART REPRESENTING ONLY ONE DYNAMIC ASPECT IN THE EXPLOSION OF 19th CENTURY NORMS IN SOCIETY AND CULTURE IN GENERAL.

TODAY, THE LRFA BLOG WELCOMES BACK AVIS BERMAN,  WRITER, CURATOR AND EXPERT ON AMERICAN MODERNISM.

AVIS, YOUR NUMEROUS CONTRIBUTIONS INCLUDE NEWSPAPER PUBLICATIONS SUCH AS THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, AND THE BOSTON GLOBE, JUST TO NAME A VERY FEW. I AM ASSUMING THAT YOU WERE ACTING IN THE ROLE OF A REVIEWER OF EXHIBITIONS.

I almost never review exhibitions. I prefer to write long, research-based pieces that rely on primary sources. These articles were profiles of artists, observations on the social history of the art and artists, art-travel pieces, and book reviews.

ELIE NADELMAN Seated Woman, 1924 Estate of Elie Nadelman Photo courtesy of AFA)

ELIE NADELMAN
Seated Woman, 1924
Estate of Elie Nadelman
Photo courtesy of AFA)

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS THAT, IN RETROSPECT, WERE PARTICULARLY SIGNIFICANT AND WHY?

One of the most significant articles that I wrote was called “Sculptor in the Open Air: Elie Nadelman and Folk and Popular Art.” It was the first research to delve deeply into the myriad aspects of artist’s connection with aspects of Polish, French, American, and other European folk arts, and I presented many new ideas, based on both my own analyses and on previously overlooked archival sources. The essay was for an AFA exhibition called “Classical Folk.” It was an excellent show, but it didn’t receive much publicity, especially because the Whitney was mounting a large Nadelman retrospective shortly to follow, but the article has been consistently cited (and sometimes plundered) ever since.

Elie Nadelman: Classical Folk by Elie Nadelman and Suzanne Ramljak Essay contribution: Avis Berman

Elie Nadelman: Classical Folk
by Elie Nadelman and Suzanne Ramljak
Essay contribution: Avis Berman

Recently I wrote two different types of articles that gave me much pleasure because they were so different from the norm.  One was an essay about images of urban night in early twentieth-century American painting and photography for the catalogue of “Night Vision: Nocturnes in American Art, 1860-1960,” an exhibition at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

 

Night Vision: Nocturnes In American Art, 1860-1960 Essay contribution: Avis Berman

Night Vision: Nocturnes In American Art, 1860-1960
Essay contribution: Avis Berman

THE CATALOGUE OF NIGHT VISION: NOCTURNES IN AMERICAN ART, 1860 – 1960 MEMORIALIZED A MAJOR EXHIBITION OF AMERICAN ART AT THE BOWDOIN COLLEGE MUSEUM OF ART IN MAINE FROM JUNE – OCTOBER 2015 . THE FIRST SIGNIFICANT SURVEY OF  AMERICAN NIGHT SCENES BY ARTISTS SUCH AS ANDREW WYETH, GEORGIA O’KEEFFE AND WINSLOW HOMER, IT EXPLORES THE DEPARTURE FROM THE CONVENTIONAL STYLES AND TRADITIONS THAT  TRANSFORMED OUR AMERICAN ART  AND CULTURE  WITH THE ADVENT OF NEW POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND TECHNOLOGY.

http://store.bowdoin.edu/collections/art-museum/products/night-vision-nocturnes-in-american-art-1860-1960-pre-order

AVIS, WHAT WAS THE FOCUS OF YOUR ESSAY IN THE CATALOGUE AND WHY?

For “City Lights: Urban Perceptions of Night,” I approached the work of artists from Hassam and Steichen and Stieglitz to Sloan and Hopper and Martin Lewis as evolving responses to the phenomenon of New York jettisoning gas lamps for electrification. Focusing on these images in relation to a new technology fascinated me. 

IN HER OWN WORDS, SOME EXCERPTS FROM THE ESSAY:

 JAMES ABBOTT MCNEILL WHISTLER Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Falling Rocket), 1875


JAMES ABBOTT MCNEILL WHISTLER
Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Falling Rocket), 1875

Beginning in the early 1880s,New York’s main source of nighttime light was no longer the faraway moon or the stuttering flame of a gas lamp, but the clear, steady glow of the incandescent filament. These brilliantly illuminated streets, public places, and private residences changed entire patterns of existence, to which contemporary artists had to respond. Elec­trification catapulted New York into the modern age and pushed artists to chronicle the city’s altered tempo and appearance. Just as Whistler’s melding of forms, textures, and colors of his night scenes took him to the brink of abstraction, most daringly in Nocturne in Black and Gold. The Falling Rocket (fig. 1), contending with the electrified city after dark meant that his successors would reveal a host of new forces at work in their representations of New York….

Childe Hassam Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square, New York Smith College Museum of Art Northampton, MA

Childe Hassam
Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square, New York
Smith College Museum of Art
Northampton, MA

When the Bostonian Childe Hassam moved to New York in 1889. he was determined to capture the daily occurrences of urban life, at least in the city’s more refined precincts. His vision extended beyond New York’s streets, buildings, and inhabitants to include the exploitation of natural phenomena. Like Whistler and the French Impressionists, he sought to capture atmospheric light in all its embodiments— during rain, snow, and mist, and after dark. These interests coalesce in Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square,  especially as Hassam was an eager portrayer of horse-drawn cabs. Sometimes he even hired one as an on-site studio, using the seat in front of him to set up an easel.3 In describing how he created the painting that is probably Cab Stand at Night, Madison Square, Hassam stated, “I use an ordinary sketch book and pencil a great deal for making notes of characteristic attitudes and movements…

Alfred Stieglitz Reflections - Night (New York), 1897 Gelatin silver print Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Alfred Stieglitz
Reflections – Night (New York), 1897
Gelatin silver print
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One would hardly expect to find affinities between the talented but moderate Hassam and Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, innovators who were leaders of the photographic avant-garde. Stieglitz claimed to be the first photographer to achieve success with night photography and, in 1898, a year after he began com­posing nocturnal scenes, he stated that their expressive potential opened “up certain possibilities that have not as yet been attempted.” 

Berenice Abbott Night View: Midtown Manhattan, (New York at Night), 1934 Gelatin silver print Smith College Museum of Art

Berenice Abbott
Night View: Midtown Manhattan, (New York at Night), 1934
Gelatin silver print
Smith College Museum of Art

The unalloyed triumphs of technology without which the modern city is inconceivable—incandescent lighting and the tall building—are apotheosized in Berenice Abbott’s anthem to the electrical grid, New York at Night (alternately titled Night View:Midtown Manhattan). The spectacular Olympian view of towers blazing like icy prisms on a dry winter evening was taken from a high floor of the Empire State Building, the successor to the Flatiron and the Chanin buildings as New York’s reigning icon of architectural modernity. Abbott had to calibrate exactly when the night would begin in order to get what she envisioned. She knew that most employees worked in their offices only until about five o’clock, after which the lights would be turned off. She thus waited until one of the shortest days of the year December 20.1934 – to create the photograph. At sunset, shortly before five, when evening began for most workers, Abbott exposed the negative for fifteen minutes and created an immaculate image of “the vertical city with its unimaginable diamonds. Night was no longer there to veil New York’s architecture: it was to exalt it. Artificial light had conquered nature and taken possession of it.

IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, AVIS WILL INFORM US ON HER STUDY OF THE NEW HALL COLLECTION AT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY’S MURRAY EDWARD COLLEGE, A BODY OF WORK SHE DISCOVERED, PUBLISHED IN ANTIQUES MAGAZINE.

PLEASE JOIN US!

Avis Berman, writer, curator, historian of American art, architecture and culture

Avis Berman Author and art historian

Avis Berman
Author and art historian

THE ROLE OF THE ART HISTORIAN IS CRUCIAL TO THE KNOWLEDGE AND APPRECIATION OF OUR CULTURAL LEGACY IN THE VISUAL ARTS. THE HISTORIAN IS THE KEEPER OF OUR HERITAGE DOCUMENTING AND SHARING HISTORICAL AND GEOPOLITICAL INFLUENCES ON ART, DEEPENING OUR UNDERSTANDING OF A WORK OF ART BOTH IN TERMS OF ITS MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES AND ITS PLACE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE PERIOD IN WHICH IT WAS CONCEIVED.

AVIS BERMAN IS AN INFLUENTIAL AND DELIGHTFUL PRESENCE  IN THE ART WORLD. HER LECTURES AND WRITING CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY  TO OUR APPRECIATION AND UNDERSTANDING OF 20th CENTURY AMERICAN ART. SHE IS THE AUTHOR OF MANY BOOKS AND ARTICLES; REBELS ON EIGHTH STREET: JULIANA FORCE AND THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART,  EDWARD HOPPER’S NEW YORK AND CO-AUTHOR OF KATHARINE KUH’S MEMOIR. MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MODERN ART: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH A LEGENDARY CURATOR, TO NAME A FEW.

Rebels of Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art by AVIS BERMAN

Rebels of Eighth Street: Juliana Force and the Whitney Museum of American Art
by AVIS BERMAN

WITHOUT AVIS BERMAN’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE SCHOLARSHIP OF AMERICAN ART, OUR UNDERSTANDING AND APPRECIATION OF THIS PERIOD WOULD BE GREATLY DIMINISHED. HER WRITINGS HAVE PROVIDED A WEALTH OF INFORMATION ON OUR AMERICAN CULTURE AND THE INNOVATIVE AND REVOLUTIONARY PRESENCE OF AMERICAN ART THAT EMERGED IN THE EARLY 20th CENTURY.

My Love Affair with Modern Art: Behind the Scenes with a Legendary Curator Avis Berman, Editor

My Love Affair with Modern Art: Behind the Scenes with a Legendary Curator
Avis Berman, Editor

IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO WELCOME AVIS BERMAN TO THE LRFA BLOG.

AVIS, YOUR PRIMARY SCHOLASTIC FOCUS AT UNIVERSITY AND GRADUATE LEVELS WAS IN ENGLISH LITERATURE. WHAT PROMPTED YOUR SHIFT TO WRITER AND CRITIC IN THE ARTS?

While looking for a job in my field, I got a position as a researcher at the Smithsonian, and I got so excited by the wealth of American art around me, which I had never seen in such mass and depth, that I decided that I wanted to learn more about it. However, I have never regretted studying literature – it has helped me in both analyzing and in writing.

DID YOU GROW UP WITH AN INTEREST AND EXPOSURE TO ART AND, IF SO, WHAT PARTICULAR PERIODS OF WORK RESONATED WITH YOU INITIALLY?

I wasn’t enormously exposed to art, but I grew up in the Hartford area, and I did go to the Wadsworth Atheneum. But my sister was an artist, and I enjoyed taking courses in high school. I wasn’t talented, but I got high marks because I always had ideas that I executed.

DURING YOUR COLLEGE AND POST-GRADUATE YEARS, DID YOU ELECT TO TAKE COURSES IN STUDIO ART AND/OR ART HISTORY?

I went to Bucknell University as an undergraduate, and I took some survey courses in art history, but I ended up choosing literature as a major because there were no great art collections nearby – Philadelphia was about three hours to the east and Pittsburgh three hours to the west. We had to study through slides and minor examples from the Kress Foundation (which used to give works of art to universities as study collections), and I found that looking at reproductions alone was not the way to learn about art, so I decided I would not major in it. But evidently I was mistaken, because I was at Bucknell with two women who became very distinguished art historians and museum directors – Doreen Bolger and Lynda Roscoe Hartigan – who had no trouble with an art major at Bucknell.

A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America by Richard Miller Essay contribution: Avis Berman

A Shared Legacy: Folk Art in America
by Richard Miller
Essay contribution: Avis Berman

WAS THERE A PARTICULAR PERIOD OF ART THAT WAS THE FOCAL POINT OF YOUR STUDIES? IF SO, WHAT MOTIVATED YOUR ENTHUSIASM AND INTEREST IN THAT PERIOD?

I have always loved the period 1890-1950 in American art, and I continue to do so. I am fascinated by the prospect of artists struggling to find their artistic identity and establish their artistic heritage. Also, when I started, the only period of American art not considered provincial was 1945 to the present, with an emphasis on Abstract Expressionism and internationalism.

Photo Caption: John Sloan at work in his studio, ca. 1925 Smithsonian American Art Museum

Photo Caption:
John Sloan at work in his studio, ca. 1925
Smithsonian American Art Museum

When I started working at the Smithsonian, it was the first time I saw a painting by John Sloan, and I became curious about that mass of semi-buried history, which was not at all fashionable then. I was also fortunate enough to be encouraged by superb mentors, including Adelyn Breeskin and Lloyd Goodrich.

IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, AVIS WILL SHARE HER PROFESSIONAL HISTORY AS A WRITER AND HISTORIAN. WE HOPE YOU WILL PARTICULARLY ENJOY EXCERPTS OF SOME OF THE ACTUAL TEXTS AND ILLUSTRATIONS OF HER WRITINGS.

PLEASE JOIN US!