by ALINE LOUCHHEIM
THE other day when I walked into one of the smaller New York galleries, w hich had turned its meager walls over to two “one-man shows, the startled dealer rushed up to me and demanded, “Are you a friend or relative of which artist?“ There are always dozens of such shows in New York, visited primarily by “friends and relatives,” plus a few conscientious museum directors and ubiquitous critics. Many are on the schedule for December and January. A certain number of the artists will be picked up for large group shows; a very few will be brought individually into the limelight.
For the visitor who likes to make his own judgments and to buy the perhaps-great at bargain prices, a tour of these smaller galleries is exciting. But for the gallery-goer with limited time, the crowded December-January art calendar has offerings with more reliable guarantees of quality: the three big American exhibitions at the Metropolitan, the Whitney, and the Museum of Modern Art (the first two will overlap in the last half of December, the third starts late in January).
The Metropolitan’s show —the big regionally artist-juried national competition is familiarly known as the “free-for-all.” It is one of the central parts of the museum’s new conciliatory attitude toward contemporary American painters, at once an acquiescence to the demands of Artists Equity Association and another way of using construetively the large Hearn Fund, which had accumulated into a somewhat embarrassing burden for the old-master minded institution.
The competition attracted 6248 entries. They came from every state in the nation excepting Nevada, from all the possessions, and from American artists living temporarily in France, Italy, England, Mexico, and Japan. All this interest survived the public, and rather childish, refusal of several of the best avant-garde artists to compete because of the “conservative” jurymen. However, according to advance rumors, the show will be far from conservative— not only because the juries fell over backward in favor of progressive art but also because, as Robert Beverly Hale, the Curator of Paintings, says, “there just isn’t much conservative painting around.” How much of the so-called abstract art will be abstract from the inside out and how much will be representational painting obscured by a veil of cubism or a filter ot distortion remains to be seen. My personal guess is toward a preponderance of “superimposed modernism.
Unlike the Metropolitan, the Whitney makes its own selection for its annual show and takes full responsibility for its own choices. As always, this year’s show (opening early in December) will be “cross-sectional,” but the accent will be on the fresh and creative. Most of the artists who refused the Metropolitan’s invitation will be seen on the Whitney walls, and quite a few others have held out what they consider their best work for the selected, rather than the juried, show.
It remains for the Museum of Modern Art to take the abstract bull by the horns. Andrew Ritchie, art-history-trained Scotsman whose career embraced both the Frick and Buffalo Museums before he took over the ticklish job of Curator of Paintings at the Modern Museum, will present a historical survey of abstract art in America from 1913 to the present. His effort is to define and classify the types of abstract painting — cubist, nonobjectivist, organic, and expressionist idioms — showing them in their pure forms and as they overlap and coalesce. Abstract art is apparently here to stay’. In a world where science has taught us to think in terms of symbols and relationships, such a means of expression seems to have increasing validity.
The Whitney Museum’s memorial exhibition of work by Arshile Gorky, opening January 5, promises an equally provocative exposition of abstract art. In his late work, Gorky makes the eye a “lineament ” which pulls together diverse images remembered, felt, imagined — into paintings of haunting and tragic beauty. This evocative style, with its tender color and amorphous forms, has had a strong influence on younger painters.
Gorky was born in the wild, beautiful country of Armenia, where in his childhood he knew the terrible massacres inflicted by Turks and Russians. At the age of about fourteen he came to America with one sister and was fetched from Ellis Island to Boston by another. There he worked in a factory and painted Cézannesque landscapes. In 1925 he moved to New York and taught at the rather academic Grand Central Art School, but as his style progressed in the direction of Léger and Miró he lost his job.
As it did to so many artists in the thirties, the WPA offered Gorky temporary respite from want. His main project of the period, a mural for the Newark airport, has mysteriously disappeared and only sketches remain. Later murals which fared equally badly wore those for the World’s Fair and for Ben Marden’s, a sporty night club overlooking the Hudson. Julien Levy gave him his first Now York one-man show in 1945. But tragedy dogged him in 1946: a studio fire destroyed much of his work; there were difficulties with his wife; he underwent an operation for cancer; he spent himself in a prodigious effort of work; he broke his neck in a fearful accident. In 1948 he committed suicide, just at the moment his genius and tender imagination were beginning to receive rather wide acclaim.
On Fifty-seventh Street, December and January will be marked by internationalism. Louis Carré will do a Léger retrospective in honor of the Frenchman’s seventieth birthday. It is hard to believe that this painter of carnival color and bold shapes has reached this venerable age. In Paris last summer he took the five spiraling flights of stairs to his studio at an accelerated pace. Reaching the bright, busy room he talked excitedly of a host of projects, including fabric and ballet designs, sketches for mosaics in a new church, the completion of his war memorial chapels in Belgium, his book on the circus, and his new easel paintings. His gourmet’s enjoyment of melon-and-port at the romantic Montparnasse restaurant, the Cloiserie-des-Lilas, was indication of a robust love for all the good things in life, a joyousness more apparent than ever in his art.
Matisse Gallery will have a show of Giacometti’s haunting, specter-thin sculptures. Pointing to one of these ghostly plaster figures in his studio this summer, the sculptor, who looks like a brunette Harpo Marx, said despairingly, “If I take any more away, there will be nothing left — yet there is still too much. It is hard, hard, hard.” Miró’s latest paintings will follow at this gallery.
Henry Moore’s brooding, Etruscanlike figures are so well known and ha ve influenced so many American sculptors (and even, some wag suggests, the hole in Flair’s cover) that it is surprising to learn his forthcoming exhibition of sculpture at Buchholz Gallery will be the first in New York, except for the Modern Museum show of 1946. Catherine Viviano will introduce two young Italians: Birolli, who interlaces color bands, and Vedova, who was one of the few sensations of the Venice Biennale. Tall, bearded, with the fascinatingly evil look of a character in a De Sica film, Vedova paid for his antiFascism in a concentration camp. His abstract paintings in black-whit e-and-gray, enlivened by touches of red and green, are compounded of somewhat geometrically conceived but. wholly recognizable symbols and fragments. His canvases of a concentration camp and of a Europe bristling with, armaments make forceful impact.
John Marin, the American “modern old master,” celebrates his eightieth birthday this December. He is still agile and energetic and, some critics feel, painting better than ever. Last summer, in order to paint a favored v iew’ over one of his Dow n East lakes, he drove his Packard station wagon over muddy, roadless terrain and hiked two additional miles up a steep hill to reach the special spot. Once settled there, he discovered he had forgotten his brushes. But by using his fingers for broad area and his nails for fine lines, he painted the scent anyway.
Thirty-eight of Marin’s finest draw ings and wate? colors have lately been reproduced by Twin Edi tions, New York, in a portfolio designed by the painter himself, with one of his delightful and poetic prefaces in facsimile from his own handwriting.
According to Fifty-seventh Street rumors, last spring Marin turned down a sizable sum from a famous French dealer and chose to go on the roster of the Downtown Gallery, where his work is permanently on view’ in a special little room. In January the whole gallery will be his, with his recent work — some of it returning to the early subject matter of Manhattan as seen from Wechawken — in the big rooms.
Andrew Wyeth is another American on the schedule for a January show, this one at Macbeth. Andrew is, of course, the son of N. C. Wyeth, whose visualizations of the Mohicans remain more vivid for most of us than the Cooper words they illustrate. Andrew is the best known of the enormous family, and his realist paintings, with their eerie moods, have been eagerly sought since his first one-man show in 1937 was an immediate sellout.
Lenard Kester, who went to the Northwest on a Tiffany Fellowship, will show at Midtown, while husky young Steve Raffo, who caught the critics’ fancy when he won a Penn Academy award two years ago, will send to Rehn the paintings he made in New Mexico on his Guggenheim. “Homage to Bellows” at the Milch Galleries will honor an older American, while Kraushaar will have a selection from the Cleveland Museums show of William Sommer.
The dazzling Goya show at Wildenstein’s (for the benefit of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University) will run into the middle of December. Goya has often been glibly called “the first modern master,”but this epithet has finally been pinned down and given meaning by André Malraux, who has spoken of the painter’s fight for a painting which “will submit to only one law — the law of its own unforseeable development.” Malraux defines this law as “the primacy of the means of paint over the laws of representation, the right to draw and paint to express oneself, not to create an illusion or present some scene as powerfully as possible.” Malraux is, of course, referring to the magnificent late Goyas, which are locked in Spain, but one can see evidences of this attitude even in the early and middle period portraits at Wildenstcin’s.
J. B. Neumann, a genial dealer who approaches art with sentiment and perception, is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his gallery, “The New Art Circle,” with a changing show of “wonderful things from my shelves which have never been seen.” They should be wonderful, too, for this is the pioneering dealer whose first show a quarter of a century ago consisted of Marin lithographs, who gave debuts to Max Weber (due this season at Paul Rosenberg’s), Walt Kuhn, and Karl Knaths, and who brought a hard-boiled audience at a Museum of Modern Art forum close to tears with his appreciation of Paul Klee.
Sidney Janis, also enterprising but quite young in the gallery business, will document two themes with intelligently selected examples. One show will be “The Fauves,” revealing the chromatic explosion of 1905; the other, “1913,” will present each of the important isms which were making news in that climactic year. Another theme show will take place at Buchholz in December: “Homage to Rodin.”Resides honoring the sculptor whose impressionist surfaces are coming into renewed favor, the show will exhibit those contemporary artists who show Rodinesque influence.
To illustrate the attitude of professional players towards amateurs, Alexander Woollcott used to tell of the “old broken down tragedian” who complained to an “unappetizing street-walker,”"Ah, madame . . . quelle ironie! The two oldest professions in the world — ruined by amateurs.”
In the case of professional and amateur painters, the situation is fort unately happier. A questionnaire suggested by Artists Equity Association and distributed by Art News to the 1866 persons who had entered the latter’s 1949 National Amateur painting Competition revealed that the epidemic of Sunday painting is helping professional artists. Half of these amateur artists reported that they had bought more art since they look up pastime painting, forty-three per cent purchased the same amount, only seven per cent bought less. Ninetyseven percent said they visited more art exhibitions than they used to. And sixty-eight per cent had taken paid instruction from a professional.
The second of these amateur competitions sponsored by Art News will open on December 6 at the National Academy of Design (the place represents, of course, a delightful irony, since the criteria of excellence in the amateur show are creativeness, originality, freshness, and sincerity rather than technical skill). The jury runs the gamut from the Saturday Evening Post’s Norman Rockwell, who is interested “in what the people are doing,” to the nonobjectivist Josef Albers, who likes “any manifestation of natural design.”
During the vacation period the Museum of Modern Art will hold its Children’s Holiday Carnival, when the museum will once again give youngsters between the ages of four and eight a chance to appreciate modern art by coming into actual contact with it, by play and creativity. Parents are barred by the gate itself—a cookie-cutout of an eightyear-old!
Inside is a holiday land, where color, light, and music swirl in a gay vortex. Above the children’s heads are mobile sculptures in bright plasties; to the right, strings to pull in order to set a cellophane tightrope walker on his way; ahead of them, a shadow box in which they can see the designs of overlapping wires and color transparencies they have created by pushing buttons; farther along, a peep box with an abstract film strip. They may use the Color Player (designed by Victor D’Amico, who directs the carnival), pressing the keys on the keyboard to turn on different combinations of colored light, stepping on the pedals to propel translucent shapes through them, and watching the endlessly varied results projected on a screen.
Arranged in circuslike animal cages will be sculptures which the youngsters may touch a Lucite giraffe, a metal alligator, Flannagan’s “Ram, Zorach’s “Cat Washing Itself.”
In a separate room are easels, paper, and paint. “Lazy Susans” revolve on low tables, overflowing with beads, string, feathers, sequins, paper-snippets, fabrics, and other bizarre objects which, with the aid of convenient paste pots, can be transformed into “collages.” Or there are magnetic plates on which the young artists can arrange geometric or organically shaped painted metal pieces to make abstractions which suggest Mondrian and Miró.
No happier introduction to the fundamentals of modern art could be imagined than this carnival in which, surrounded by actual works of art, the children learn through creative play.