MODERNISM IN AMERICAN ART IN THE 20TH CENTURY: A CONSIDERATION OF MODERNIST ART UNDER THE PHOTOGRAPHER ALFRED STIEGLITZ AND HIS GROUP OF MODERNIST ARTISTS INCLUDING JOHN MARIN (1870-1953) ARTHUR DOVE ( 1880-1946) AND JOSEPH STELLA ( 1877-1946) PART 2.

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In my concluding part of this posting into Modernist art I will consider more fully the contribution of the Futurist Joseph Stella, while adding further commentary on the contributions of Arthur Dove and John Marin.

Matthew Baigell  begins by saying that Stella was a more complex artist than the other two.

” Joseph Stella more complex personality than Marin who painted symbolic as well as futurist works responded just as vehemently as Marin in the City at least between 1913-20″. [1].

” Channelling his passion into an obsessive regard for the Brooklyn Bridge he recreated it as a towering imperative vision alive as he said with the blaze of electricity scattered in lighting down the oblique cables”. [2].

Baigell  explains because of his Italian upbringing how Stella  was aware of Futurism a new movement that had taken place in Italy.

” Familiar with Futurism since 1912 when members of the movement staged a major exhibition in Paris where Stella was then living, he painted the Brooklyn bridge in a variant of that style”. [3].

” Despite Stella’s rhetoric the sturdy central axis of this painting provides the composition with a rigidity and intellectual control missing from Marin’s work”.[4].

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Ann Lee Morgan offers her commentary on the work of Arthur Dove.

” Known particularly as an interpreter of nature he ranks as the first American to exhibit abstractions and the only American to work continuously as an abstract artist from before the armoury show”. [5].

” Besides contributing to the on going dialogue of Modern Art he wished to open a pathway to essential reality  through authentic and original responses to personal sensations”. [6].

Morgan commenting on his sojurn in France suggests that he was moving from Impressionism to a Fauvist outlook.

” During this time he abandoned his soft impressionist manner for a brightly coloured fauvist approach influenced by Matisse. Soon after his return he met Alfred Stieglitz who became his champion as well as a close friend”.[7].

” Dove then produced ten large semi-abstract pastels featuring natural motifs within abstract contexts influenced by Cubism , energetic organic commalike forms suggesting stylisations of germinating seeds”. [8].

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Morgan explains how Dove’s art changed dramatically showing a more visual approach in his work.

”  After Dove moved upstate his art took on the visual characteristics of the area’s rolling farmland , but other paintings demonstrate masterful organic abstraction and combination of ample bovine forms interpreting and overlapping within a pasture like space”. [9].

Morgan now describes in detail the driving force of this group of artists which was of course Alfred Stieglitz.

” Wishing to liberate the medium from both scientific literalism and mindless sentimentality he understood at an early date that despite its mechanical origins photography could be an art form”. [10].

” Before the armoury show of 1913 his 291 provided the only American venue where Modern art could regularly be seen because interest in European Modernism exploded in the wake of that huge and sensational Exhibition”. [11].

Referring to his gallery named 291 because it represented the number on 5th Avenue Morgan recognises the importance of Stieglitz to the de revolutionary development that Abstraction would take in the United States.

” In 1905 Stieglitz  expanded his duties and power by opening a gallery officially the outpost of his amorphous photography group , the little galleries of the photo-secessionists soon became known as 291″. [12].

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Morgan now turns her attention to John Marin a painter very much influenced by Matisse and Fauvism.

” A watercolour enthusiast Marin painted landscapes , sea scapes and city views n a fresh and vigorous semi-abstract style. His work combines impressionist sensitivity to visual effects and cubist fragmentation”. [13].

” Marin remained the most popular of the early Modernists during his lifetime respected by the art community ,his work spoke as well to a larger audience that admired his expressive individualism and enthusiasm”.[14].

Morgan explains how with his European contacts Marin was able to display his Watercolours in Paris.

” Through contacts in Paris with young American acquaintances of Alfred Stieglitz he arranged to show his watercolours in a joint display with Alfred Maurer’s work( an artist I will deal with in a later post) at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery”. [15]

” Marin’s work often displayed increased abstraction and linear intensity perhaps encouraged by the abstract expressionist interest in process that his work had presaged for some time”.[16].

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Morgan now considers the Futurist Joseph Stella and his brightly coloured Paintings.

” Best known for radiant futurist influenced images of New York’s Architecture and Bridges”.[17].

” Soon afterwards his initial futurist work Battle of lights Coney Island numbered among the first and one of the relatively few American paintings to demonstrate an understanding of that Italian modernist style”.[18].

Stella’s work was both symbolic , bright and extremely innovative argues Morgan.

” Valuing both tradition and the innovations of modernism during those years he used whatever means appropriate to his fundamentally poetic and symbolic objectives”.[19].

This concludes my first of many posts about the development of Modernism and its role as one of the founding elements that would produce Abstract Expressionism and other art forms like Pop Art , Minimalism and Performance and Video installations. At this stage this art form of abstraction was only in its embryo form.

FOOTNOTES

  1. A CONCISE HISTORY OF AMERICAN PAINTING AND SCULPTURE . MATTHEW BAIGELL. PG.231
  2. DITTO.PG.231
  3. DITTO.PG.231
  4. DITTO.PG.231
  5. THE OXFORD DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN ART AND ARTISTS ANN LEE MORGAN.PG.126
  6. DITTO.PG.126
  7. DITTO.PG.126
  8. DITTO.PG.126
  9. DITTO.PG.126-7
  10. DITTO PG.466
  11. DITTO.PG.466
  12. DITTO.PG.291
  13. DITTO.PG.297
  14. DITTO.PG.297
  15. DITTO.PG.297-8
  16. DITTO.PG.297-8
  17. DITTO.PG.464
  18. DITTO.PG.464
  19. DITTO.PG.464

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