Published: May 22, 2012
On June 9 the Amon Carter Museum of American Art will open “American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and Their Circle, 1927‱942,” an exhibition that brings together more than 60 pioneering works of American Modernism. Organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., the exhibition will be on view through August 19, and admission is free.
During the early Twentieth Century, the enigmatic and charismatic John Graham (1886‱961) and his circle of New York artists, which included Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, forged their identities and dramatically transformed conceptions of what a painting or sculpture could be. They, along with others in Graham’s orbit, such as Jackson Pollock and David Smith, played a critical role in developing and defining American Modernism. “American Vanguards” showcases works of art from this vital period that together demonstrate the interconnections, common sources and shared stimuli among the members of Graham’s circle.
Graham was a painter, theoretician and mystic whose advanced ideologies ultimately affected the course of American Modernism. Born in the Ukraine to aristocratic parents, Graham seemed an unlikely figure to be such a pivotal force in American art †he studied law in pre-revolutionary Russia, served in the czarist cavalry and was a counterrevolutionary imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, all before arriving in the United States in 1920.
Settling in New York where he studied with Jan Matulka, Graham developed close associations and friendships with Davis and Gorky, who were together so constantly that they were known as “the Three Musketeers.” The trio was soon joined by de Kooning who always credited the “Musketeers” with developing his understanding of Modernism. To these artists, Graham was a vital conduit of knowledge regarding the latest developments in European Modernism. Graham’s inner circle grew to include Smith, as well as Dorothy Dehner, Adolph Gottlieb, Lee Krasner, Edgar Levy and Pollock †a cross-section of some of the most remarkable American artists of the period.
Graham’s influence was disseminated further through his seminal text, Systems and Dialectics of Art , 1937, which affirmed the American Modernist belief about art. By 1942, Graham was organizing a landmark exhibition at the McMillen Gallery, “French and American Painting,” that for one of the first times featured Davis, de Kooning, Krasner and Pollock, alongside European Modern masters such as Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso.
After closing at the Amon Carter, “American Vanguards” will be on view at the Addison Gallery September 21⁄ecember 31. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is at 3501 Camp Bowie Boulevard. For more information, 817-989-5067 or www.cartermuseum.org .
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