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Routes toward Modernism: American Painting 1870 - 1950

September 13 - December 29, 2002


The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin presents in September, 2002 three exhibitions highlighting its collections of American and Latin American art. As the museum prepares for its move into a new building scheduled to open in early 2005, the Blanton is presenting changing exhibitions that explore the permanent collection from a range of new perspectives. Though thematically separate, these three exhibitions reveal the range of works in the museums collection of modern and contemporary art, providing university students and visitors from Austin and across the nation a rich sampling of these diverse holdings. The three exhibitions are: Routes toward Modernism: American Painting 1870 - 1950; Surface and Subtext: Latin American Geometric Abstraction; and Cartoon Noir: Four Contemporary Investigations. These exhibitions will be on view from September 13 through December 29, 2002.


Routes toward Modernism: American Painting 1870 - 1950

With nearly 60 paintings drawn from the Blanton's permanent collection, this exhibition traces developments in American painting during a dramatic period of stylistic innovations and artistic breakthroughs. 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. Routes toward Modernism explores three groups of artists from within this span of time, each of which approached or incorporated modernist lessons differently. (left: Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916). At the Piano, circa 1871, oil on canvas. Gift of Caroline Crowell, M.D., 1964)

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 works ranging from late nineteenth-century paintings of luminist landscapes, to early twentieth-century examples of Ashcan School realism, the introductory section of the exhibition features representational works that retain stylistic connections to traditional academic modes of expression. 

Routes toward Modernism next presents the work of several key American modernists from the first decades of the 20th century, including Max Weber, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Stuart Davis. Influenced by the Armory Show of 1913, a groundbreaking exposition in New York of the latest experimental European and American works, as well as by other first-hand encounters with the most avant-garde art of the time, these artists experimented with compositional structure and representations of space, time, light, and form. Their work exemplifies a search for a new language of expression that still retains a strong identification with local and national characteristics.

While the early American modernists were exploring paths toward abstraction, another loosely affiliated group of American artists was combining aspects of realism, expressionism, and cubism in largely narrative works. Paintings by Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Reginald Marsh, Philip Evergood, Ben Shahn, Jacob Lawrence, Karl Zerbe, and others showcase realism, social realism, and other related styles that took root in the years leading up to World War II.

Together, these vastly differing bodies of work -- representing a range of both abstract and representational approaches -- constitute a particularly American strategy toward and interpretation of modernism, and set the stage for an era of radical new artistic accomplishment that develops in the post-war years.


American and Latin American Collections at the Blanton

The Blanton's collection of 20th-century American art has become a center for innovative scholarship, experimentation in presentation, and revitalization and growth for the Museum. Featuring the Mari and James A. Michener Collection, the Blanton's holdings trace the history of American painting from the turn of the century until approximately 1970, including important paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, Philip Evergood, Helen Frankenthaler, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Marsden Hartley, Hans Hofmann, Brice Marden, Joan Mitchell, Max Weber and other major figures of the period. In recent years, the Blanton has focused on expanding this collection to include later twentieth-century works. Through numerous gifts, as well as strategic purchases, the Museum has added works by artists such as Vito Acconci, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Sam Gilliam, Yayoi Kusama, Philip Guston, Ana Mendieta, Alice Neel, and Byron Kim to its collection. The Blanton's collection of American art is the foundation for numerous groundbreaking exhibitions, loan programs, and research and outreach programs, and is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of 20th-century American art on any U.S. campus.


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