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An Intimate Look at William Glackens and The Eight

April 15 - September 4, 2011

 

The Eight, a celebrated yet controversial early twentieth century exhibition, was intended to protest the outdated exhibition policies of the National Academy of Design and awaken American art to the possibilities of a modern era. It became one of the most talked-about art events in American history. Today, The Eight is re-examined through the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University's current exhibition An Intimate Look at William Glackens and The Eight.

On view in the Museum's Glackens Galleries now through September 4, 2011, the exhibition provides an in-depth look at how William Glackens, a turn-of-the-century American realist painter, and seven other prominent artists who had a common goal of fighting an antiquated arts establishment made a lasting mark on the history of American art. Glackens and his fellow Philadelphia realists Robert Henri, George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan, plus impressionist Ernest Lawson, post-impressionist Maurice Prendergast, and symbolist Arthur B. Davies, formed what was the artists group The Eight. The group's notoriety stemmed from the fact that Glackens, Luks, Shinn and Sloan were all artist-reporters prior to becoming full-fledged painters, and knew how to manipulate a story with their friends in the media. (right: Ernest Lawson, Lighthouse on Peggy?s Cove, not dated, Oil on canvas. Collection of the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University; Gift of Anne D. Solomon)

With a libertarian curatorial approach, The Eight, featuring 63 of the eight artists' varied works, opened to much success on Feb. 2, 1908 at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. It made its final appearance in May 1909.

Following the exhibition, the eight artists never again showed together, although most of them remained close friends. The Eight was a precursor of today's "blockbuster" shows and forged the way for larger and more ambitious group exhibitions, such as the revolutionary Armory Show of 1913 which introduced the works of modern European artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Kirchner and Duchamp.

The Museum's exhibition brings together paintings from its permanent holdings, as well as works borrowed from the Norton Museum of Art, Boca Raton Museum of Art, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum. The exhibition aims to achieve some of the imbalance and dissonance that made the original exhibition so memorable.

"With An Intimate Look at William Glackens and The Eight, we hope to remind and educate visitors about how these eight artists made the acceptance of modern American art possible," said Irvin Lippman, the Museum's Executive Director.

 

Wall text from the exhibition

Controversy presents opportunity. It spikes interest, creates curiosity, and encourages us to take a stand. Understanding this trait of human nature, teacher and artist Robert Henri and his coterie of Philadelphia realists -- William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Shinn and John Sloan -- proceeded to make The Eight exhibition one of the most talked-about art events in America. The group's notoriety stems mostly from the fact that the four Henri disciples had worked as artist-reporters before becoming full-fledged painters, and therefore, had good friends in the media and also knew how to manipulate a story. To gain attention from the public, they exploited their underdog status as rebels fighting against an entrenched and outdated arts establishment.

The one and only joint exhibition of The Eight opened February 2, 1908 at the Macbeth Gallery at 450 Fifth Avenue, which was the first New York gallery dealing exclusively in American art. The intent of the exhibition was to protest the antiquated exhibition policies of the National Academy of Design. That once venerable institution, now presided over by a group of intransigent academics, insisted on perpetuating the art and careers of artists who had little to do with the modern American experience. Its juried exhibitions favored idyllic landscapes and dour 'old world' portraiture and rejected anything that hinted of modernity. In selecting the works for inclusion in the 1907 National Academy exhibition, Robert Henri, the only dissenting voice among a jury of 27, became discouraged as he witnessed all the entries of his innovative and talented pupils eliminated in favor of mediocre, old-fashioned paintings. Exasperated, he removed his own two pieces that had been accepted and went public with his criticisms to the New York press, accusing the National Academy of reactionary conservatism. Soon afterwards, he and John Sloan began planning the groundbreaking exhibition that was to make an indelible mark on the history of American art.

The Eight was a once in a lifetime event that brought together eight artists, several of whom had very little in common besides a desire to awaken American art to the possibilities of the modern era. The group included William Glackens, George Luks, and Everett Shinn ­ along with Henri and Sloan ­ all of whom were devotees of straightforward naturalism. The remaining members of The Eight were impressionist Ernest Lawson, post-impressionist Maurice Prendergast, and symbolist Arthur B. Davies. Acknowledging their diverse approaches to art, Henri stated, "We have come together because we are so unlike." Their unexpected alliance was controversial, garnering both praise and criticism. James Huneker, writing in THE EVENING SUN, addressed the group's inherent dissonance by referring to "the jangling and booming of 8 different orchestras."

The logistics for the show were simple and democratic. The walls of two galleries were divided into eight equal sections of approximately twenty-five feet apiece and each man was free to exhibit whichever pictures he thought most suitable, within the limits of the space. There were no restrictions on the number of works nor did the artists make an effort to coordinate their display with each other. There was a total of 63 works; the most heavily represented was Prendergast with 17 small oils and watercolors, while Earnest Lawson displayed only 4 landscapes. This libertarian curatorial approach was a direct reaction to the National Academy's installation philosophy, which held that works could be eliminated if they failed to harmonize with other art sharing the space.

The exhibition was an enormous success; opening night drew more than 300 visitors per hour through the gallery. Sales totaled over $4,000, with important collectors like Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney being among the more distinguished buyers. After its closing in New York, versions of the exhibition traveled to nine additional venues, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, and the Bridgeport Art Association in Connecticut, where the exhibition made its final appearance in May, 1909. Following its conclusion, the eight talented painters never again showed together as a group although most of them remained close friends. The exhibition was a precursor of today's 'blockbuster' shows and forged the way for larger and more ambitious group exhibitions, such as the revolutionary Armory Show of 1913, which introduced to the American public works by modernist European artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Marcel Duchamp.

This installation purposely shuns chronology as well as thematic connections. It aims to achieve some of the dissonance and imbalance that made the original exhibition so memorable. Our most sincere appreciation is extended to the Norton Museum of Art, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum for the generous loans that make this exhibition complete.

 

(above William Glackens, The Bandstand, not dated, Oil on canvas. Collection of the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University; Gift of the Sansom Foundation)

 

(above William Glackens, Children Roller Skating, not dated, Oil on canvas. Collection of the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University; Gift of the Sansom Foundation)

 

(above John Sloan, Kathleen Dozing, circa 1915-16 Oil on canvas. Collection of the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University; Gift of the Sansom Foundation)

 

(above Maurice Prendergast (1859 -1924), Nanhant (also known as Landscape with Carriage), circa 1912 -13, Watercolor and graphite on paper. Collection of the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University; Bequest of Ira Glackens)

Resource Library editor's note

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For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale in Resource Library

rev. 5/28/11


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