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Villa America: American Moderns, 1900­1950

November 13, 2005 - February 26, 2006

 

(above: Gerald Murphy, Villa America, 1924. tempera and gold leaf on canvas. 14-1/2 x 21-1/2 inches, © 2005 Estate of Gerald Murphy; licensed by VAGA)

 

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts presents works from one of the world's finest collections of American paintings in the new exhibition, Villa America: American Moderns, 1900­1950. Opening November 13, Villa America features the work of great American masters including Grant Wood, Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove, Stuart Davis, Philip Guston, Romare Bearden, Charles Sheeler, and Marsden Hartley. Comprising approximately seventy-five works, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the private collection assembled over the past thirty years by Myron Kunin, a life trustee of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and founder of Regis Corporation. This exhibition is organized by the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, California. (right: Georgia O'Keeffe, Shelton Hotel, N.Y. No. 1, 1926. oil on canvas. 32 x 17 inches. © Estate of Georgia O'Keefe/ARS)

The exhibition begins with a look at key American artists working in Europe and New York during the first part of the twentieth century. In these early years, artists such as Davis, Dove, Hartley, O'Keeffe, Gerald Murphy, and Morgan Russell, to name just a few, were reshaping American art. Many of these artists traveled abroad, where they embraced experimentation that transformed traditional subject matter into avant-garde statements of personal expression. The first section of the exhibition includes more than twenty paintings from the early Villa America years, representing both the first wave of American modernists who crossed the Atlantic to explore new avenues of expression in Europe, and a second and larger wave of progressive artists who emerged following the 1913 Armory Show in New York. Highlights include Murphy's Villa America (1924). Symbolic of the creative exchanges of the time, Villa America, the exhibition's title, is taken from the name of this painting and Murphy's home in southern France, which served as a gathering place for both American and European modernists. Another highlight is O'Keeffe's Shelton Hotel, N.Y., No. 1 (1926). Depicting the hotel's towering edifice from a low vantage point, O'Keeffe transformed the building into a pattern of repeating windows overlaid with a dynamic shape in the sky.

 

American Scene

The extended period of artistic innovation during the early twentieth century largely came to an end in the 1930s, following the stock market crash and the onset of the Depression. The times ushered in a more sober realism with themes drawn from everyday life, reflecting regional values and a new sense of social responsibility. Throughout the country, artists became interpreters of America. In New York, painters such as Walt Kuhn and Reginald Marsh chronicled the intense vitality and diversity of the city, depicting a fantastic range of activities and people. Others, such as Paul Cadmus and Philip Evergood, combined realistic representation with caricature and social critique, creating a style often referred to as Social Realism. Among the highlights presented in this section of the exhibition is Marsh's Star Burlesque (1933), a painting audacious for its time that reveals the artist's interest in the blatant sexuality of the new American society. Another highlight is Cadmus's Aspects of Suburban Life: Main Street (1937). A public commission that was later rejected, the painting is a spectacular example of the artist's satirical portrayals of the class and racial conflicts of American society of his time.

 

Return from Bohemia

The strong regionalist movement in American painting of the 1930s and 1940s, one of the outcomes of the Depression, can be seen as a grassroots reaction to the cosmopolitanism of the preceding two decades. Wood's painting Return from Bohemia (1935), which gives its name to this section of the exhibition, perfectly captures the popular endorsement of rural life and local customs. In this painting, Wood paints himself seated in front of a canvas, surrounded by his neighbors, who, with their eyes downcast, seem strangely indifferent to the artist. During this same time, Sheeler, who had experimented with Cubism earlier in the century, brought a photographic clarity to his work of these later decades. For example, in Winter Window (1941), the closely observed details Sheeler found in the textures of a plant, terra-cotta pot, and hand-woven textile are contrasted to those of glass, wood, and paper. Other artists working in a figurative mode, from Ben Shahn to Andrew Wyeth, are also represented in this section of the exhibition-in which the formal experimentation of the early years of the century gave way to a realist-based exploration of the American landscape and daily life. (right: Romare Bearden, Folk Musicians, 1941-42, gouache and casein on brown paper. 35-1/2 x 45-1/2 inches)

 

The Artist's Portrait

One of the major strengths of Villa America, and the private collection from which it is drawn, is its range of portraits and self-portraits by artists. These paintings are among the exhibition's most personal and intimate images. The portraits reflect a breadth of aesthetic approaches and styles. From the expressionist images of Stuart Davis and Oscar Bluemner, to the abstracted portraits by David Smith and Theodore Roszak, to the surreal portraits of Cadmus and George Tooker, these works are riveting in their psychological intensity and immediacy. Among the highlights is Robert Henri's Edna Smith (Sunday Shawl) (1915), a portrait of a striking red-haired woman that captures the subject's sensuality. In contrast, Milton Avery's Seated Nude (1940) heralds the emergence of Abstract Expressionism. One of the most striking images on view is Davis's Portrait of a Man (1914). The strong green brushstrokes screening the subject's face and heavy angular lines shaping the torso convey an emotional power, exemplifying Davis's interest in Vincent van Gogh and the changes his work underwent after seeing the 1913 Armory Show.

Villa America: American Moderns, 1900­1950 will be on view at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts through February 26, 2006. Patricia Sue Canterbury, associate curator of paintings and modern sculpture at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is the curator-in-charge of this exhibition at the Minneapolis venue. (left: Milton Avery, Seated Nude, 1940. oil on canvas. 48 x 32 inches)

A 151-page catalogue published by the Orange County Museum of Art, with an introductory essay by organizing curator Elizabeth Armstrong and contributions by William Agee, Patricia Sue Canterbury, Wanda Corn, Bram Dijkstra, Karal Ann Marling and Dana Simpson accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue is available for purchase at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts' Museum Shop.

Villa America: American Moderns, 1900-1950 is organized by the Orange County Museum of Art from the collection of Curtis Galleries, Inc., founder Myron Kunin. Villa America is a trademark of Curtis Galleries, Inc.

 

Related lectures

 
Independent Voices and Visions from Villa America
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Lecturer: Elizabeth Armstrong
Armstrong, deputy director for programs and chief curator, Orange County Museum of Art, is curator of the exhibition, " Villa America: American Moderns, 1900­1950." Her opening-day talk will focus on the nonconformist attitudes and aesthetics of key artists in this exhibition and the independent sensibility of the collector who assembled this eclectic, yet ultimately American, body of work.
 
Villa America: American Modernism Revisited
Saturday, December 3, 2005
Lecturer: Wanda M. Corn
Corn, the Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor of Art History at Stanford University and author of numerous publications, including The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity 1915­35, will look at the highlights of the Curtis Galleries, Inc. collection. She will discuss the collection in the broader context of history, taste, and scholarship, and demonstrate how it charts new ways of thinking about early twentieth-century culture.
 
 

(above: Paul Cadmus, Aspects of Suburban Life: Main Street, 1937. oil and tempera on board. 31-3/4 x 73-3/8 inches)

Exhibition Itinerary

 

The Quiet Landscapes of William B. Post

Another exhibition on view during the Fall, 2005 presents the beautiful and poetic landscape photographs of William B. Post (1857-1921) in a new exhibition "The Quiet Landscapes of William B. Post." Organized by the Institute, the show comprises a master set of fifty-nine vintage platinum prints, which is the most comprehensive collection of this artist's work in any museum. From September 10, 2005 through January 22, 2006, visitors of the Institute will have the opportunity to view the first solo exhibition of Post's photographs assembled in more than a century. After its Minneapolis premier, the exhibition will travel to several locations including museums in Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Utah, and Washington. (right: William B. Post, Untitled, c. 1900. platinum print. 7-9/16 x 9-1/2 inches. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts)

Residing for most of his life in rural Maine, Post made his surrounding landscape the primary subject for his photographs. His deep love of the natural world contained a strong spiritual element that he eloquently conveyed through his subtle platinum prints. He sensitively photographed apple trees bursting into blossom in a beautiful simplified style that drew comparisons to Japanese paintings. But it was the photographing of glistening growths of water lilies and wide expanses of snow that he was most drawn to and best known for. By softening the focus and carefully composing his subjects, Post captured images of water lilies that were atmospheric and almost abstract. In 1899 Post produced his most important picture, Intervale, Winter, which was widely exhibited and reproduced. Post employed a radical composition and subtle tonalities to virtuoso effect. He boldly placed the horizon line in the frame, filling the foreground and middle distance with a large expanse of flat and empty open space. The picture contains few tonal values and scant subject matter but abounds in suggestion and symbolism. It reveals Post's skill in evoking the sensation of nature, rather than documenting a particular place.

Post photographed from the mid-1880s through the 1910s, a period when serious amateur photographers first pursued photography as an artistic outlet. He embraced "pictorialism," a style that featured simple compositions, soft-focus effects, and highly refined printmaking methods. Pictorialists were more concerned with the aesthetic and the emotional impact of the images rather than the actual scene. Alfred Stieglitz, one of America's leading proponent and practitioner of artistic photography, was so impressed with Post's work that he promoted his work for fifteen years. Stieglitz published Post's images in his publication of fine photography, Camera Work, and included them in important exhibitions.

A 100-page catalog written by Christian A. Peterson, curator of the exhibition and associate curator at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, accompanies the show. The catalog includes more than forty reproductions and is the first in-depth study of Post's art and career. It is available in the museum shop. (left: William B. Post, October Morning, c. 1900. platinum print. 7-3/16 x 9-15/16 inches. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts)

The Department of Photographs' permanent collection has grown to include approximately 9,000 fine historic and contemporary photographs that document the history of the medium from 1836 to the present. The newly expanded photography study room will open on June 11, 2006. Related Public Program Season's End, Once Again Family Day Sunday, September 18, 2005, 11:00 A.M. ­ 5:00 P.M., free.

Paint a tree for each of the four seasons. Take a tour through the museum and discover works of art that depict your favorite season. Make a picture of a watery or snowy landscape and learn how to create the illusion of the elements' reflective qualities. Experience the changing of the seasons by viewing the landscape photographs of William B. Post, on view in Harrison Photography Gallery.

 

Exhibition Itinerary

 

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