New York

“Seven Americans”

Washburn Gallery

A small but impressive show called “Seven Americans,” partly reconstructing an exhibition put together by Stieglitz at the Anderson Galleries in 1925, included works by Demuth, Dove, Hartley, Marin, O'Keefe, Stieglitz, and Paul Strand. For Hartley’s part there was a massive, energetic work called Landscape, New Mexico, from about 1918, together with a significant if less gripping study for it. Hartley, we always have to remember, is more than something like a German Expressionist: by 1918 he had shown with the Blaue Reiter and had a one-man show in Berlin. The strength and directness of technique in his Landscape is the real embodiment of a deep, moody response to the heavy, stony New Mexico mountains, and helps to place Hartley in more continuous relation with later American Expressionism than the anthologists normally allow. Marin also had some Central European experience, although his Deer Isle, MaineNear the SeaTwo Trees, a watercolor of 1924, is of a more familiar type. O’Keeffe’s CornNo. 2, from the same year, is also admirable but also not news.

Arthur Dove’s 1925 collage Seaside was indeed news. A shallow box enclosing a roughly but not insistently symmetrical array of twigs, pinecones, grass, and O’Keeffe-like jawbones, Seaside links up with the down-home modernism of Robert Chandler’s Porcupines (illustrated in Artforum, November, 1970, p. 72)—which Theodore Roosevelt greeted at the Armory Show as “first-class decorative work of an entirely new type”—as well as with the sophistications of Cornell. Stieglitz’ photograph, An Equivalent in a Series of 2 Equivalents, X-Y, This is Y, 1923–38, I found a little “impressionistic” and pseudomodern. It certainly does not compare with Paul Strand’s magnificent photograph, The Court, 1924, unfortunately seen here as a reproduction—although still crisp. The Court, in fact, raises problematic issues about the nature of photographic modernism because, like so much of the best material of that kind, it is “abstract” in the sense that it is abstracted from nature—an assertive pattern deduced from (sometimes imposed upon) a landscape that would otherwise seem much less organized. No doubt it is significant that here preexisting “nature” consists entirely of bleak, mostly windowless, urban architecture, without a visible sky; motifs of this kind have also proven important to the development of such modernist painters as Mondrian and Kelly. Charles Demuth’s poster design Three Plays, Stockbridge Stocks, 1926, was nice to see but not remarkable.

––Joseph Masheck