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Power and Whimsy: A Private Collection of American Modernism

June 27 through September 7, 2003


Power and Whimsy: A Private Collection of American Modernism features 38 paintings and works on paper by some of the most innovative masters of the 20th century, among them Milton Avery, Thomas Hart Benton, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Grant Wood. Remarkable for their quality, strength, and diversity, the works in this exhibition provide a rare opportunity to collectively glimpse the full variety of styles and aesthetic directions that characterize progressive American art in the crucial decades after 1900. Ranging from intimate, jewel-like watercolors and pastels to ambitious large-scale oils, the works also reflect the extraordinary taste and intelligence of the Virginia couple who have crafted this singular collection. (right: Marsden Hartley (American, 1878-1943), New Mexico Recollection No. 3, 1922-23, oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 41 1/4 inches, on loan from a Virginia collector, image provided by the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia)

At the turn of the 20th century, Europe-and particularly France-was the hub of modernist innovation, inspiring many American artists to continue their training there. From 1905 to 1907 these artist-expatriates saw the first examples of Fauvism and Cubism at the Salon d'Automne in Paris, while at Leo and Gertrude Stein's Left Bank salon they could meet Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso and encounter firsthand the Steins' groundbreaking collection of European avant-garde painting. Though a good number of these Americans stayed on in Europe, many more returned home to champion the new art in the United States.

The ground back home was indeed fertile for this newly transplanted art. In New York, photographer Alfred Stieglitz led the way at 291, his Fifth Avenue gallery, which became the first United States venue to exhibit works by Matisse and Picasso and to present, as early as 1908, the work of such American modernists as Hartley, John Marin, and Alfred Maurer. And with the 1913 New York Armory Show, the larger American public was introduced to both European and American modernism. These trends and milestones are eloquently reflected in the art of Power and Whimsy, which charts the rise of the American modernist movement in all of its richness and complexity.

An intriguing aspect of the collection is its variety of smaller scale works in oil, watercolor, and pastel. They provide a balance for several paintings of enormous power, including Hartley's New Mexico Recollection No. 3; Avery's Black Mountain; March Wind-Passaic River, New Jersey by Oscar Bluemner; and Stuart Davis' Egg Beater. Humor plays an equally significant role, as seen in Benton's Study for Butterfly Chaser and the delightful Adolescence by Grant Wood. (right: Milton Avery (American, 1893-1965), Oceanview through Window, 1944, watercolor and gouache on paper, 30 3/4 x 22 1/2 inches, on loan from a Virginia collector, image provided by the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia)

Power and Whimsy premiered this spring at Vance Jordan Fine Art in New York. Its exhibition at the Chrysler offers Hampton Roads its first opportunity to view this remarkable collection. The exhibition is on view in the Waitzer Community Gallery through September 7.

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