New York

Abraham Walkowitz

Zabriskie Gallery

I used to think of Abraham Walkowitz as one of those “pioneer American modernists” who deserves, but needs, the benefit of the doubt: definitely a favorite son candidate. I have more respect for him after having seen an exhibition called “Abraham Walkowitz: the Early Years” at the Zabriskie Gallery in January. The guy is far from perfect, but he is amazingly good. Some of the drawings in ink and watercolor of Isadora Duncan, for example, are as gross as they are interesting. And yet one of his earliest paintings, Harbor Scene (c. 1895–1905), is so much more than merely accomplished as to stretch the limits of the academic (in something like the way Couture did that). One literally academic work, a charcoal Life Study from the same period, has two amusing rubber stamps on it: “ADMITTED TO LIFE” and “ADMITTED TO PAINTING,” in that order. For Walkowitz the stamps have a particular aptness, for he belonged to the first contingent of Americans to dare to leave “life” behind and enter the territory of painting-in-itself.

Bathers (c. 1905–10), a watercolor on two leaves, is an impressive piece from about the time Walkowitz was in Paris with Max Weber. Suggestive of Matisse in the poses of the figures and in their relation to the landscape, the poses and construction of the figures also suggest the watercolors of Rodin, whose studio Walkowitz visited. But the most interesting feature of the Bathers seems altogether original: the rhythmic, time lapse relation of the same three figures as they dispose themselves at one moment in the first leaf, and then at another in the second.

Some of the New York skyscraper pictures of 1910–20 rank with the best examples of this Stieglitzian, homegrown Cubo-Futurist mode, touched here particularly by the influence of Marin. A pencil drawing, City (1912), and a lithograph called N.Y. of the Future (c. 1910–20), are particularly striking. Of the abstract works executed between 1910 and 1920, Color Abstraction (1913), in watercolor and pencil, is perhaps the most successful.

––Joseph Masheck