Critics’ Picks

Milton Avery, Studio View (Chop Suey), ca. 1930s, watercolor on paper, 22 1/8 x 15 1/4".

Milton Avery, Studio View (Chop Suey), ca. 1930s, watercolor on paper, 22 1/8 x 15 1/4".

Fort Worth

Milton Avery

Modern Art Museum | Fort Worth
3200 Darnell Street
November 7, 2021–January 30, 2022

The people, places, and things on display in the Milton Avery survey here are free of pomp and circumstance. Viewed in today’s divisive times, Avery’s take on simple pleasures is a warm respite. The painter defied artistic labels and remains a profound influence on generations of imagemakers. To see his wide, varied body of work in one setting is the perfect cocktail of leisure, serenity, and demystification to chase down the anxieties waiting for us outside. Avery’s delicate portraits favor color over form, light over theory.

Avery was notoriously private—much of his oeuvre celebrates domesticity. Some pieces focus on urban environments, such as the watercolor Studio View (Chop Suey), ca. 1930s, where we peer through a set of curtains from his inner sanctum and see a Chinese-food restaurant. Some of the other pictures feel more explicitly tender. An example is Red Anemones, 1942, a painting of a blue vase holding the titular flowers next to a toy crocodile, which presumably belonged to his daughter March, a muse who appears in many of the works in this show. Elsewhere is Hors d’oeuvres, 1943, an oil-on-canvas still life of delicacies, perhaps served at one of the hundreds of meetings for the Art Students League of New York, where he would sit silently and sketch. Avery was interested in giving immortality to things and moments most people don’t give a second thought to—eternal life for the quiet and fleeting.

As the show moves into his later work centered on portraiture, we really start to see Avery strip his paintings down. This was defined by his process of thinning paint until his works were denuded of texture; in its place was an exaltation of form and color. This approach also applies to the people and landscapes he captured, which he turned into simplified shapes and lush abstractions. Perhaps because of his blue-collar background, Avery gave us the bare essentials: blunt titles, simple forms, and an honest day’s work.