Sunday, November 30, 2014

(No. 277) William Glackens, Walker Evans, Julian Schnabel & others: 3 exhibtions


"William Glackens, Walker Evans, Julian Schnabel and 
other artists: three major exhibitions"

by Alastair Rickard


We were in Fort Lauderdale, Florida recently after a cruise and made a point of visiting a place we had missed previously: the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale. It is currently featuring three large special exhibitions.

The Museum is located in a modern building  just off East Las Olas, an area of precious shops and cafe/restaurants heavily promoted to tourists. The space devoted to galleries on two floors of the Museum is large and forms an appealing setting for visitors to view a trio of exhibitions all of which feature a large number of works.

I have written previously about the marvellous Barnes Collection now relocated in its new Philadelphia home ( see RickardsRead No.214, Sept. 8, 2012).  Albert Barnes as a key part of his ongoing effort from 1912 to 1951 to form a major collection of paintings sent American artist William Glackens to Paris in 1912 to buy paintings for him.

Glackens, himself attracted to and influenced by Impressionist art, played a major role in Barnes accumulating what is today one of the world's great collections of Impressionist amd post-Impressionist-era paintings. It contains, for example, 309 paintings by Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse alone.

William Glackens' own paintings have not received the attention they deserve. Today more than 500 of his works have found a home in the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale. Currently the Glackens Wing is displaying a selection of 85 works he painted between the late 1800s and the 1930s. Glackens died in 1938.

Glackens has been called the American Renoir. I would not rate him that highly but he had a considerable talent which he used over the decades to display an impressive range of styles and subjects. While influenced by Impressionism his efforts were far from being slavish imitations.

His range was extensive: from family portraits (e.g., "the artist's wife and son", 1911) to still lifes such as "White Rose and other flowers"(1937) to French landscapes like "Along the Marne"(1925) and Renoir-esque paintings like "Lenna at one year"(1919).

This exhibition's selection from among Glackens' own paintings is enhanced by the inclusion of works painted by several American painters associated with him such as Marjorie Organ, John Sloan and Florence Scovel Shinn. Also adding to the exhibition is a gallery with a furnished sitting room as a setting in which to hang several of Glackens' paintings.

As Pat and I toured the Glackens exhibition I was struck by the similarity of Glackens (1860 -1938) as a painter to a contemporary: the Canadian painter  William Blair Bruce (1859-1906) the subject of a fine retrospective at the Art Gallery of Hamilton (Ontario) earlier this year.

Bruce too spent much time in France, was influenced in his style and and subjects by French Impressionism, Monet particularly and painted during his career an interesting range of subjects and styles (see RickardsRead column No.269, posted July 24, 2014).

Last year I purchased a newly published book written by James Agee (1909-1955) with photos by Walker Evans (1903-1975): "Cotton Tenants: Three Families" (Melville House, 2013).

In 1936 they went on assignment for Fortune magazine to Hale County, Alabama to report a story about white tenant farming families and their lives. Fortune never published the article, perhaps because its verisimilitude was too ideologically incorrect for the editors of Henry Luce's magazine. In 1941 Agee and Evans published a 400 page book inspired by their trip entitled "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men".

For fifty years the original unpublished report was presumed lost but a copy of the 30,000 word article turned up among Agee's papers. It was this article that was published in 2013 as "Cotton Tenants" and the volume includes 30 of Evans' photos. The article and especially the photographs depict effectively and with great impact the sort of American Depression era poverty and oppressive lives of the working poor.

This brings me to the second of the Museum of Art's three current major exhibitions: "American Scene Photography: Martin Z. Margulies Collection".

It is a very large display of dozens of photographs  by a number of important American photographers whose work Margulies collected such as William Jenkins, Dorothy Lange and Arthur Rothstein. For me the photographs in the exhibition with the most impact are by a wide margin Walker Evans' pictures of the depression poor and their lives including some taken during his Alabama trip with Agee.

The Margulies Collection of American photographs from the early 1900s to the present are the basis for an impressive exhibition.

The third of the Museum of Art's current trio of major exhibitions has in my view a title that is more interesting than much of the featured content: "Cafe Dolly: Picabia, Schnabel, Willumsen: Hybrid Painting".

One theme of the exhibition which (had I been asked) I would likely have called "A dog's breakfast of works drawn from the work of three artists" is apparently the presentation of 75 paintings "depicting narrative scenes". Some of the works are interesting, some are guaranteed to attract enthusiasm among the trendy and others are simply risible. Indeed Pat's impression, and her interest in art is broader and taste more liberal than mine, was that all three artists (to put it charitably) exhibited certain personal psychological problems in their art.

The trio of artists from whose bodies of work paintings have been drawn are the French painter Francis Picabia (1879-1953), a some time leading light of the Dada movement; the Danish painter J.F. Willumsen  (1863--1958), an artistic rebel who spent most of his career in France; and the American Julian Schnabel (b.1951) who it has been argued -- rather pretentiously --  destroyed the barrier between figurative and abstract art.

That isn't how I would rate Schnabel's work. But then these days we are too often dealing with artistic sensitivity and marketing reality that embrace, for example,  the payment of millions of dollars for Andy Warhol's colour tinting of celebrity photographs taken by somebody else. So, chacun a son gout.

Together these three substantial exhbitions comprise a rewarding experience and are an excellent reason to visit the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.

[For details visit the Museum's website moafl.com]

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email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

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