New York

Abraham Walkowitz

Zabriskie Gallery

For Abraham Walkowitz art was never less than a religion, and the artistic profession akin to a sacred calling. In 1906 he left New York for Paris, where he fell under the spell of Paul Cézanne, Auguste Rodin, and Henri Matisse, whose work greatly influenced his rendering of the figure.

Walkowitz met Isadora Duncan in Paris, and he was so captivated by her dancing that he made her a central focus of his art. For him, she was the embodiment of the esthetic that drove his work: the notion of the artist as vital creator. Walkowitz was hardly alone in his admiration of Duncan. Numerous artists, from Rodin to John Sloan, depicted her, but Walkowitz, who did more than 3,000 drawings and sketches of his muse over the span of his career, was Duncan’s most devoted interpreter. Duncan herself was quoted as saying, “Walkowitz, you have written my biography in lines without words, I can pass on.”

Documenting Walkowitz’s ability to render the formal as well as expressive powers of Duncan’s unique style of movement, the more than 90 drawings featured in this show reflected the depths and power of his obsession. Looking at the pen-and-ink and pencil-and-watercolor works, it was almost impossible not to sense the passions that motivated this artist. On one level Walkowitz was the consummate fan. He wanted to be true to the form and spirit of Duncan’s performances, to what one eyewitness described as her “natural movements of great sweep and beauty, rounded and complete.” In Isadora Duncan, 1909, he succeeded in giving a vivid portrayal of the intense gestures, the ecstasy, that took hold of her body and then her audience. Still, on another level, Walkowitz remained the consummate Modernist: interested not in imitating an experience but in giving his impression of it. The image of Isadora that emerges is a blend of observation and feeling, the product of objective and subjective determinants, a kind of decoding of the phenomenon that she was.

Ronny Cohen