San Francisco

Arthur G. Dove

Gumps Gallery

The work of Arthur G. Dove (1880–1946) covers a wide range of highly imaginative ex­periments in various idioms and modes of syntax, as well as a considerable range of qualitative variability. This ex­hibition is a disappointment in that it is comprised mainly of examples of this great artist’s less consequential, and physically quite miniature, diversions­—chips from the workshop, as it were, rather than the more committed and seriously undertaken creations.

The gallery statement dwells with considerable insistence upon Mr. Dove’s historical importance. The emphasis on this point constitutes rather faint praise for an artist of Dove’s stature. “His­torically important” innovators have often been relatively minor talents mere­ly suggesting novel forms, methods and materials for more inspired successors to develop. However, Dove’s more signi­ficant works would be “important” had they been done yesterday. The curious thing, nevertheless, is that after rele­gating this Titan to a mere niche in the archives, this show fails to produce more than four minor pieces from the “historically important” period, prior to 1929. Dove was associated with Stieglitz’s “291” group as early as 1910, and participated in the controversial Forum Exhibit of Modern American Art (N.Y. 1916). Yet the preponderance of works here exhibited are dated between 1935 and 1944—when Dove was no longer a lone, or near-lone, pioneer, but had many followers and sympathetic col­leagues.

Only three works in this showing, all of them watercolors, bear testimony to Arthur Dove’s impelling imagination and extraordinary vision: “Wind” (1929), which reminds one of Japanese Sumi painting in the free and mobile rhythms and captivating lyrical economy of its utterance; “Cow” (1934), and “Inkings” (1934). The latter two works, while miniscule in size, are inspired, flamboyant and humorful spontaneities bearing the unmistakable imprint of genius.

Palmer D. French

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