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In the American Grain: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz

February 14 - May 9, 2004


In the American Grain: Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz kicks off Art of the Americas, a year-long celebration of American art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Drawn exclusively from the distinguished Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., this extraordinary presentation of forty paintings by artists of the Stieglitz Circle, as well as a selection of photographs by Stieglitz himself, features the groundbreaking innovations of these leading modernists who changed the course of American art. This exhibition has been organized by The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Together, the bold and original works of In the American Grain also tell the captivating story of friendship between Stieglitz, a pioneering art dealer and promoter of American modernism, and Duncan Phillips, the legendary art collector who avidly supported Stieglitz's galleries and his circle of key artists for over 20 years. Confirming Phillips' dedication as one of the greatest patrons of modern art in the United States, this remarkable collection profiles the intense passion that he and Stieglitz shared for young artists committed to defining a new form of American painting in the first half of the twentieth century.

From 1907 to 1917, Alfred Stieglitz's gallery 291 in New York was at the center of a community of artists and critics pursuing new discoveries and statements in the arts. Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Georgia O'Keeffe were associated personally and professionally with Alfred Stieglitz for almost forty years. Having each gravitated at a young age to 291, where they were exposed to European avant-garde art, they became convinced of the independent merits of color and form, a fundamental discovery essential to the development of American modernism.

Stieglitz immediately responded to the brooding intensity of Hartley's thatched strokes of color and his strong identification with form. The spontaneity of Marin's watercolors shared close kinship with the immediacy of Stieglitz's photographs. O'Keeffe's stark simplicity and intense color distinguished her from her male counterparts. More so than the others, Dove used the texture of physical objects to shape his abstractions.

Stieglitz retained unwavering confidence in these four artists long after he had closed 291 and ceased his proselytizing for the avant-garde. In 1925, when Stieglitz opened a new gallery in New York City, Duncan Phillips added a room to his museum specifically dedicated to new American painting. Phillips, a wealthy Washington art patron and conservative critic, had initially dismissed abstraction and the European avant-garde. After World War I, he came to terms with abstraction-"a sudden conversion to red blood," as Stieglitz put it. Both Stieglitz and Phillips believed in exploring the frontiers of new American painting in intimate gallery spaces and dedicated their lives and fortunes to making that viewing experience possible.

From 1926 to 1946 the Stieglitz Circle claimed the lion's share of Phillips' commitment to living American artists. He acquired the world's largest and most representative group of works by Arthur Dove, quintessential examples of every aspect of John Marin's development, signal works by Georgia O'Keeffe and Marsden Hartley, and photographs by Stieglitz.

Arthur Dove's remarkable paintings convinced Duncan Phillips that abstraction was not an arbitrary style but an artistic process. In 1910, he was the first American artist to abandon any hint of narrative content in his paintings. After working as a commercial illustrator in New York and converting to the aesthetic avant-garde in Paris, Dove returned to New York and embraced abstraction-an abstraction based in nature. His mature work of the 1930s and 1940s, created while he lived on a houseboat, includes assemblages and collages which show his fascination with what he called "thingshewn out of nature." Throughout his career, Dove would test the loyalty of his patrons as he continued to experiment with unorthodox materials such as wax emulsion. These works comprised some of the strongest abstractions in Phillip's collection.

On New Year's Day 1916, Stieglitz was introduced to Georgia O'Keeffe. To Stieglitz, her semi-abstract charcoals seemed utterly new, completely without debt to the European art which he had presented at 291. He immediately invited her to exhibit her work. The last show Stieglitz ever hung at 291 in April 1917 was a solo O'Keeffe exhibition. After 291 closed, Stieglitz and O'Keeffe continued their celebrated personal and professional partnership. She later turned to representation in her paintings, exploring cropped, close-up views of flowers and leaves in a magnified scale. She finally settled in New Mexico where she created her well-known works featuring vivid blue skies and arid hills.

Alfred Stieglitz first exhibited Marsden Hartley's dark landscapes from Maine at 291 in 1909. In 1912, Hartley moved to Europe, where he became influenced by Vasily Kandinsky's new theories of painting, which led him to devise his first abstractions and subsequently painted still lifes inspired by European artists. In March 1930, at Stieglitz's urging, Hartley returned to the United States and settled permanently in Maine. His late work, characterized by bold primary colors and strongly outlined shapes, expressed profound emotions that resonated in the haunting seascapes and mountains of his home state.

Like Stieglitz, Marin was recognized as a master of his medium. He was a superb draftsman and a virtuoso in watercolor. Early in his career in Paris, Marin embarked on a series of radical departures exploring vigorous strokes of color as he responded to his own moods and states of the weather. When he returned he was among the first Americans to capture the tempo and pace of New York City. Sharing Hartley's attraction to the northern ocean, Marin summered in Maine after 1920. Yet Marin's more staccato Cubist rhythms could not be further from Hartley's weighty brooding forms.

In the American Grain presents a fascinating view of American modernism through groundbreaking works by artists of the Stieglitz Circle, and sets the stage for the year-long exploration of American art at the SBMA. Building on the foundation of In the American Grain, the celebration of American art at the SBMA showcases Art of the Americas: Latin America and the United States, 1800 to Now!, a major reinstallation of the Museum's permanent collection. Opening in March, Art of the Americas will explore a broader concept of "America" by integrating works by artists from the United States and Latin America. In June, Heartland: Paintings by Bo Bartlett, 1978-2002 opens, presenting a contemporary reinterpretation of realism, a dominant theme in American art. In September, Agustín Victor Casasola: Mirada y memoría (Glance and Memory) features one of the most outstanding and legendary documentary photographers in all Latin America. In October, Matta On Paper: The John Todd Figi Collection will highlight one collector's passion for the drawings, watercolors, and related paintings of the 1930s and 1940s by Matta, the world-renowned Chilean-born artist who many consider to be one of the greatest draftsmen of the twentieth century.

The Art of the Americas celebration culminates in December with the major retrospective The Art of David Ireland: The Way Things Are. In contrast to the monumental realism of Bartlett, the vibrant Surrealist works of Matta, and the dramatic photojournalism of Casasola, Ireland's remarkable architectural transformations, installations, objects, and drawings challenge viewers' everyday distinctions between art and non-art.



The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated 196-page book with a feature article by The Phillips Collection Senior Curator Dr. Elizabeth Hutton Turner, published by Counterpoint, Washington D.C., in association with The Phillips Collection. The book highlights the relationship between Stieglitz, Phillips, and the artists in the exhibition. The book also publishes, for the first time, excerpts from letters between Duncan Phillips and Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Alfred Stieglitz.


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