New York

Milton Avery

Whitney Museum of American Art

From its beginning, Milton Avery’s development was an attempt to assimilate Modernist planarity to an essentially naturalist interest—an attempt to reconcile purity of means with respect for the idiosyncratic individuality of nature’s appearances. This is a typical American interest, going back to Albert Pinkham Ryder; it is instructive to compare Avery to Clyfford Still, who had the same ideal. In Still’s work Modernism wins out; rugged nature is replaced by a potentially explosive nonobjective edge, which still echoes it. In Avery, Modernism and American naturalism seem to balance each other. This is true even at the end of his career, when nature (gull, breaking wave, etc.) is reduced to an abstract logo, a symbolic semblance of itself; Avery never reaches nonobjectivity, never even seems to understand it.

Avery is in vogue, however, because of the revived interest in figuration and to

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