In Review: What's in A Title

by Scott R. Ferris




To summarize, Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern falls short of its mission -- to define the "mythic" and the "modern" in Kent's work. Perhaps Mr. Wien floundered under the weight of too much baggage -- the broad parameters that encompass modern art and the breadth and depth of Kent's oeuvre . Before heading down the runway he should have discarded the tangential artwork as well as the redundant and lesser works, and focused on art that was more relevant to his argument. The painting Calm (Tierra del Fuego) would have been more pertinent to the shows thesis than either Admiralty Sound, Tierra del Fuego (cats. #86 and #85); April Ice (Greenland) and/or Greenland Gothic could have supplanted "Greenland Winter," Early November: North Greenland (cat. #120) and/or Post Arrival (cat. #129). (If nothing else, Mr. Wien could have explored the possibility that these minimalist works by Kent may have had some influence on successive generations of artists such as the Color Field painters.)

Having seen the exhibit several times, and read the companion catalog, I am still left with several questions including: Is all that Mr. Wien meant by the "mythic," Kent's interpretation of another's mythology (Melville's, Shephard's, Stravinsky's)? Why wasn't the artist's interpretation of the mythic in his native land, or Ireland for that matter, represented in this show? Does the abundant sampling of Kent's New England and Newfoundland work, as seen in this exhibition, serve to define the mythic or the modern, or both?

Mr. Wien writes: "With the passage of time storms dissipate, and today, more than thirty years after Rockwell Kent's death in 1971, so has the political storm that riled his later years" ("Introduction," p.5). Unfortunately this is not true, as evidenced as recently as last year. In the 16 September 2004 edition of the New York Observer, art critic Hilton Kramer wrote a review of the exhibition, Seeing Red: Rockwell Kent and the Farnsworth Art Museum, he titled, "Two Rockwell Kents: A Moby-Dick Etcher And Stalin Admirer."  Kramer's venomous commentary is a fine example of red baiting incarnate. Ignoring Mr. Kramer's shallow statements, as perhaps Mr. Wien has, only perpetuates the misguided Cold War attitude toward Kent, and impedes a fuller understanding of his significant contribution to the arts.

Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern has rekindled and hopefully broadened an interest in Kent's art and life. With refinement, a future exhibition and scholarly text will strengthen our understanding of Kent's achievements and solidify his standing in the pantheon of American art.

© Scott R. Ferris

Editor's notes:

In December 2010 Mr. Ferris created a website related to the woirk of Rockwell Kent. Please see

RL readers may also enjoy these earlier articles and essays:

and this video plus a You Tube video about it:

Rockwell Kent is a documentary film written, directed, and produced by Frederick Lewis. He won an Emmy for a documentary film on the Boston Marathon. Lewis is an Associate Professor & Sequence Director for Video Production at the Ohio University School of Telecommunications. The film DVD is available for $45 directly from Lewis. Click here or email him for details: A 2:39 You Tube video may be seen here. Edward Hopper and Rockwell Kent once attended art school together. In their prime, Hopper retreated to Cape Cod to paint, Rockwell Kent ventured out into the far north and Tierra del Fuego as an artist, writer, and adventurer. He made waves voicing his concern for social justice. Rockwell Kent also had a disappointing ability to control his conduct in his personal life, which Lewis was circumspect in covering in deference to the requests of Kent family.

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format.

Unnumbered quotes are from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art videos may be loaned directly from the Gallery. Some recent videos are available in DVD format. Selected video descriptions are courtesy of Facets Multimedia.


rev. 4/15/08, 12/29/10

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