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Stuart Davis, Fin, 1962–64, casein and masking tape on canvas, 58 7/8 × 39 3/4". © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Stuart Davis

Whitney Museum of American Art

Stuart Davis, Fin, 1962–64, casein and masking tape on canvas, 58 7/8 × 39 3/4". © Estate of Stuart Davis/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

If awards were given for best wall text at an exhibition, this year’s winner would be the placard inscribed for Fin, 1962–64, from “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. (The show, curated by Barbara Haskell and Harry Cooper, was co-organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, where it opens on November 20). As one read along, things swiftly took an unexpected turn: We learned that on June 23, 1964, Davis watched a foreign film that concluded with “Fin,” the French equivalent to “The End,” and decided to add the word to the painting he’d been working on before bed. He suffered a stroke later that night, dying on the way to the hospital. Aside from the strange coincidence of scripting one’s own sign-off in a final piece, what’s notable here is that Davis worked until the day he died. That the tape that he used to mask his

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