This post is to encourage you to see STUART DAVIS: IN FULL SWING, currently at the Whitney Museum of American Art which is running only until September 25th. The MWC will have a private guide for a visit on September 15th but if you think you will not be able to join us then – go NOW. Members, please go to the Reservations/ Payments page or the Sign Up! link on the members home page to reserve one of the limited number of spots ($45 each). Since the weather should be great, we’ll have lunch together afterwards – hopefully outdoors.
Part Mad Men, part Matisse, part jazz, part Cubism – American modernist painter Stuart Davis (1892-1964) lived through and embodied some of the great developments in art in the 20th Century. Young enough to have submitted work to the very famous and still influential 1913 Armory Show (which, by the way, was at the Armory on Lex and 26th – not the one on Park) which introduced European modernism to this country, Davis developed his signature style early in the century aping the
iconography of urban American life at a time when the US still thought of itself as being largely rural.
A high-school drop-out and son of a newspaper illustrator, Davis gravitated to Manhattan and soaked up the compelling visuals and culture of then-modern America – advertising, newspaper headlines, early Art Deco, Black culture and music and early 20th Century jazz. His works often resemble a collage of shapes and words and places in a way that refers to the jumble of American life as it shook off the pathos of the Civil War and came roaring into the new century on its own terms. Where most previous modernist painters used nature as a jumping off point, Davis decidedly did not and used colors and references which had nothing to do with the natural world.
The show at the Whitney focuses on 80 works, most done at the end of Davis’ career. Most important of these is his 1938 Swing Landscape (see above) which was originally commissioned by the Depression era Federal Arts Project/ FAP (then under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration/ WPA) to decorate a stairwell in the Williamburg Housing Project in Brooklyn. Ironically, however, this landmark work was never displayed in the public housing project; it was rejected by the FAP because it did not comply with the aesthetic directives of the public art initiative. Instead, it was eventually sold through the Federal Art Gallery and at some point made its way to the Indiana University Art Museum where it is still its most prized possession. Swing Landscape was a challenging and experimental work for its time: its jarring and chaotic and ignores perspective and scale. But it is also energetic, exciting, dynamic and inspiring – in ways which re-create the optimism and power of the country as it was climbing out of the Depression.
The last full career retrospective show of Davis’ work was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991 (MB Note: I went!) but there hasn’t been too much curatorial attention on him since. So, this is your chance to see the most powerful works of his career in a human-scaled show where you can linger. Hey, go now AND in September.