Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and Their Circle, 1927–1942

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Release date: 
April 2, 2012

FORT WORTH, Texas—On June 9, 2012, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and Their Circle, 1927–1942, an exhibition that brings together more than 60 pioneering works of American modernism. Organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art, the exhibition is on view through August 19, 2012, and admission is free.

During the early 20th century, the enigmatic and charismatic John Graham (1886–1961) and his circle of New York artists, which included Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, forged their identities and dramatically transformed conceptions of what a painting or sculpture could be. They, along with others in Graham’s orbit, such as Jackson Pollock and David Smith, played a critical role in developing and defining American modernism. American Vanguards showcases works of art from this vital period that together demonstrate the inter-connections, common sources, and shared stimuli among the members of Graham’s circle.

“Much has been written and many exhibitions organized about the most significant artists in Graham’s circle, yet surprisingly, despite Graham’s close links with so many of these artists in the evolution of American abstraction, he remains little known,” notes Brian Allen, director of The Addison. “This long-overdue exhibition rediscovers Graham and puts his art and charismatic influence in the context of his time. . . . This assembly of paintings and sculpture evidences the creative energy of New York painting and sculpture during this crucial period and fosters greater understanding of the associations formed by the leading artists of this formidable generation.”

Graham was a painter, theoretician and mystic whose advanced ideologies ultimately affected the course of American modernism. Born in the Ukraine to aristocratic parents, Graham seemed an unlikely figure to be such a pivotal force in American art in the 1920s and 1930s. He studied law in prerevolutionary Russia, served in the czarist cavalry, and was a counter-revolutionary imprisoned by the Bolsheviks, all before arriving in the United States in 1920. Settling in New York where he studied with Jan Matulka, Graham developed close associations and friendships with Davis and Gorky, who were together so constantly that they were known as “the Three Musketeers.” The trio was soon joined by de Kooning who always credited the “Musketeers” with developing his understanding of modernism. To these artists, Graham was a vital conduit of knowledge regarding the latest developments in European modernism. Graham’s inner circle grew to include David Smith, as well as Dorthy Dehner, Adolph Gottlieb, Lee Krasner, Edgar Levy and Jackson Pollock— a cross-section of some of the most remarkable American artists of the period.

Graham’s influence was disseminated further through his seminal text, Systems and Dialectics of Art (1937), which affirmed the American modernist belief about art—that it is a creative process of abstraction, it is a form of communication independent of any imitation, and it reveals the unknown. By 1942, the visionary Graham was organizing a landmark exhibition at the McMillen Gallery, French and American Painting, that for one of the first times featured Davis, de Kooning, Krasner and Pollock, alongside European modern masters such as Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso. Although French and American Painting was largely forgotten, it was pivotal in launching the career of the young Pollock, whom Graham was credited with discovering.

“Visitors to the Amon Carter are familiar with the work of Stuart Davis; however, this exhibition puts his work in a new light alongside other modernists not represented in our collection,” says Andrew Walker, director. “We hope that our visitors will take advantage of the opportunity to see these great works and gain a sense of how these artists impacted the history of American art.”

Organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, the exhibition and publication are generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation and The Dedalus Foundation, Inc., and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities. Curated by scholars William C. Agee, Irving Sandler and Karen Wilkin, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue co-published by the Addison and Yale University Press. Following its run in Fort Worth, American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and Their Circle, 1927–1942 will be on view at the Addison from September 21 through December 31, 2012.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Amon Carter currently offers this free public program.

Thursday, June 21, 2012
6–7 pm
**The Four Musketeers of Modernism** Lecture
Karen Wilkin, Independent Curator and Art Critic

In 1930s New York, innovative artists such as Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning and many others forged their identities as artists, transforming conceptions of what a work of art could be. The enigmatic John Graham was the center of this circle of inventive young artists and served as a mentor and source of information. This lecture examines the complex interrelationships among these adventurous artists during their formative years and the evidence of dialogue and cross-fertilization apparent in their work of the period.

Because seating is limited, reservations are required. Call 817.989.5030 or email visitors@cartermuseum.org to register.

This program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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