Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stieglitz and His Artists

While the Cone sisters of Baltimore and the Steins (Gertrude, Michael and Leo) were helping to make the reputations of Cezanne, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, the great American photographer Alfred Stieglitz was exhibiting and supporting the work of a generation of American abstract artists that included Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Charles Demuth and Georgia O’Keeffe (who would later become his wife). In truth, Stieglitz with the help of the great Steichen also exhibited Matisse and Picasso at his gallery, "291", which previewed these Europeans before the watershed Armory Show of l913. Stieglitz paid $65 for Picasso’s cubist “Standing Female Nude” and in exhibiting Rodin's bold spread legged “Satyress,”  demonstrated his desire to in the words of the curators of the recent Stieglitz and Hiis Artists: Matisse to O'Keeffe show at the Met  “challenge America’s Puritanism.” But his O’Keeffe show was the last at 291 and it heralded the beginning of a new era in which he championed the American school. When abstraction in American art is discusssed, it tends to reference the explosive energy of abstract expressionists like Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko and Newman. Two things can be said about the these early giants of American abstraction. Firstly while the abstract expressionists, to some degree, broke from Europe, Dove, Hartley and even O’Keeffe seem to owe a debt to it. For instance Marsden Hartley’s “Portrait of a German Officer” (1914) is a classic if somewhat undulating example of cubism. Secondly, that the opposite is true. O’Keeffe’s “Black Abstraction” (1927) was sui generis for its time and many of the other works Stieglitz displayed evidenced the beginnings of a particularly American idiom. Reading about a great show that is over (Alfred Stieglitz and His Circle just completed its run ) serves one purpose, which is to act as a reminder not to miss out the next time the circus come to town.

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