Editor's note: The following essay, from the exhibition catalogue In This Academy: The Pennsylvanian Academy of the Fine Arts 1805 - 1976, is reprinted August 1, 2008 in Resource Library with permission of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the exhibition catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, directly through either this phone number or web address:
Contemporary American Art at The Academy
By Joan M. Marter
Throughout its history the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art has purchased outstanding examples of American painting and sculpture. Originally intended as teaching tools, these works now constitute one of the finest public collections of American art. The preeminence of the collection, however, has not been sustained over the past thirty years. The basic conservatism of the Academy's Committee on Collections and Exhibitions; restricted purchase funds, and inflated prices in the art market have resulted in a collection of contemporary art that has not kept pace with mainstream developments. With a few exceptions, the painting and sculpture acquired during the past thirty years reflect a retardataire attitude toward contemporary art.
Inadequate finances have always limited acquisitions by the Academy. Until 1969, when the annual exhibition was discontinued, only three small funds were available for the purchase of contemporary works, and these were restricted by the stipulations of the bequests. The Gilpin Fund, initiated in 1879, was intended for the acquisition of works of art exhibited at the Academy, while both the Temple Fund, established in 1880, and the Lambert Fund, initiated in 1912, were limited to the purchase of works by American artists in annual exhibitions. Since most of the paintings and sculpture in the permanent collection were selected from the annuals, these exhibitions had a special significance in the formation of the collection of contemporary art.
The Academy's former director, Joseph Fraser, was proud of the policy of using artists rather than critics or art historians as jurors for the annual exhibitions. In 1964, he wrote:
Most of the appointed jurors were conservative painters and sculptors who were no longer part of the mainstream of twentieth-century art. Some served as teachers at other art institutions and represented the "academic tradition" in many respects. Jurors after 1950 included Charles Sheeler, Louis Bouche', Isabel Bishop, George Grosz, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Charles Burchfield, Peter Blume, and Ivan Albright. These artists were members of a generation of American painters active during the 1920s and 1930s. At times, the juries for annuals were composed of members of the Pennsylvania Academy faculty. Even when the jurors were from other institutions, they consistently espoused traditional approaches to art. Thus, few works by Abstract Expressionist painters or Pop artists were exhibited in the annuals because these vanguard styles were not acceptable to the jurors.
In sculpture, traditional techniques and materials such as carving in wood or stone were preferred to kinetic sculpture or plexiglass constructions. This is not surprising when one considers the roster of artists who awarded prizes and served as consultants for the acquisition of paintings and sculpture. Robert Laurent, William Zorach, and Jose' de Creeft, who served on sculpture juries during the past twenty-five years, were all direct carvers who were part of the avant-garde in American art during the 1920s.
Although the actual selection of works for purchase was made by the Committee on Collections and Exhibitions, an artist-consultant, who was usually a faculty member of the Academy, made recommendations which were generally accepted by the members. One of the reasons for the existence of the permanent collection was its use as a teaching device for the Academy's art faculty, whose bias was essentially conservative . Could the collection have been truly innovative considering the teaching it was intended to support? Thus, the contemporary collection at the Academy served the needs of the faculty and reflected the conservative taste of Philadelphia's collectors, who refrained from responding to the obsession with novelty for its own sake which characterized the art scene in New York.
The formalist aesthetic of the post-war era is not strongly represented in the contemporary collection of the Pennsylvania Academy. Since World War II, the major developments in American art have included Abstract Expressionism, Minimal Art, Pop Art, and Color-Field Abstraction. In these, form and manner were important and the properties of the painting as object were stressed. Optical Painting. Conceptual Art,  and Earthworks and Environmental Art were also products of the 1960s.
New Realism one of the most significant contemporary developments, emerged in the later years of the 1960s. The return to the figure was a solution to the increasingly limited visual vocabulary of Minimal Art of the preceding decade. Artists involved in New Realism often attempt a more direct relationship to the environment in which they live than did the artists working in the abstract styles of the 1950s and 1960s. Although distinct from traditional realism in their indebtedness to the formalist aesthetic of the 1960s and their utilization of photographic technology, the New Realists express some commitment to the human condition.
It is through more recent developments such as New Realism that the Pennsylvania Academy can regain its contact with the mainstreams of American art. Figurative painting and sculpture have always dominated the Academy's permanent collection. New Realism is not the only artistic development of the 1970s, but it is a major trend which has gained the attention of younger artists. Their new figurative and representational works have already been recognized by the Academy, and both faculty and staff have responded favorably to them Recent acquisitions have included paintings and sculpture by George Segal, Raymond Saunders, Noel Mahaffey, and John Moore.
Because the present exhibition spans the entire history of the Pennsylvania Academy, only twenty-four of the paintings and sculpture acquired by the Academy during the past thirty years could be included. Works by prominent artists which have been purchased by the Academy or donated to the collection have been combined with recent acquisitions which represent some of the current developments in American art. These have been supplemented by a few works borrowed from other art institutions and private collectors in order to present some of the more innovative developments of the post-war era. In this essay, individual works will be discussed in the order of their purchase to chronicle the collecting history of the Academy.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the paintings purchased for the collection were selected from annual exhibitions juried by Social Realists and Regionalists. Since their predilection was primarily for humanism in painting, they selected works by artists who shared their commitment to humanism. For example, in 1951 Andrew Wyeth's Young America (cat. no. 341) was purchased from the 146th Annual Exhibition. Wyeth's concern for human experience attracted both the jurors and the Committee on Collections and Exhibitions to his work.
In Young America, a tempera panel rendered with minute brushstrokes, Wyeth depicted Allen John Lynch riding a bicycle in the countryside near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. The youth with his bicycle decorated with foxtails reminded Wyeth of "a mixture of young boy and General Custer." The subject occupies the foreground of the composition and is placed at an oblique angle to the spectator. The low horizon line and neutral sky emphasize the silhouette of the figure and bicycle as a complex linear and planar configuration against a flat color field. The precision of execution and economy of means enhance the abstraction of the composition.
Wyeth has said of his work: "A lot of people say 'We brought realism back' -- they try to tie me up with Eakins and Winslow Homer. To my mind they are mistaken. I honestly consider myself an abstractionist. Despite the inherent abstraction found in Young America, it was more likely the subject which interested the Academy; the adventurousness and independence of youth suggested in this picture must have appealed to the humanists on the jury.
In the same year that Young America was purchased, the Academy also acquired Karl Knaths's Number Nine-Eliphaz (cat. no. 322), one of a series of pictures devoted to characters from the Old Testament. Like most of Knaths's paintings, this one contains some recognizable imagery, but it is essentially an abstract composition. The figure of Eliphaz on the left side of the painting and the surrounding landscape are transformed into color shapes. Heavy lines define the figures and articulate the larger patterns within the composition. The geometry of design, the orchestration of vivid colors, and the spatial interrelationships of elements are not merely decorative but are intended to contribute to the emotional expression. Knaths chose his theme from the Biblical story of the suffering of Job (Job 42:7-8). Eliphaz and his two companions are witnessing a whirlwind from which the Lord speaks to answer Job's plea for vengeance. The artist derived the title of his painting from Tarot card number nine which shows "The Hermit" and symbolizes "wisdom refracted in the corporeal." Knaths used Eliphaz as a representative of this card because he offered Job self-knowledge as a panacea for his plight.
Illimited Sequences (cat. no. 339) by Yves Tanguy was awarded the Jennie Sesnan Gold Medal in the annual exhibition of 1953 and was purchased for the permanent collection. Tanguy's reputation as an artist was already firmly established, for he was a Surrealist who had first come into prominence in the late 1920s. Tanguy was born in Paris in 1900. His childhood summers were spent at the family home in Brittany, where the rugged landscape along the seacoast had a profound effect on him. His meticulous rendering of vaguely biomorphic elements populating an imaginary landscape emerged in the 1930s after several years of a freer, more humorous style of floating forms. In 1939, Tanguy came to the United States, where he lived until his death in 1955. This relocation signaled little modification of the personal surrealist idiom he had developed during the 1930s.
Tanguy is considered the most "academic" of all of the Surrealists because of the precision of his technique. But he lacked the pictorial metaphor and inventive imagery of other members of the group. Illimited Sequences is typical of his mature style, which remained unchanged for thirty years. The painting features a variety of carefully delineated forms, some of which cast shadows to suggest their volumetric nature. Shifts in scale and overlapping of bonelike elements suggest their location in a fantastic landscape where there is no distinction between earth and sky. The precision of execution, as well as Tanguy's link with a historically important movement of the twentieth century, explains the suitability of this painting for the Academy's collection.
While the Abstract Expressionists were active in New York during the 1950s, the Academy's Committee on Collections and Exhibitions continued to follow the dictates of its jurors and artist-consultants, who were not impressed by works dependent upon pure form and color for their aesthetic validity. Instead of de Kooning's gestural paintings, for example, they favored more personal visions of the plight of all mankind found in the works of Karl Knaths, Philip Evergood, and Rico Lebrun.
Philip Evergood's paintings deal with common human experiences magnified to fantastic proportions. The artist was born in New York City in 1901 and studied at the Slade School in London and at the Art Students League. Although Evergood began painting in the 1920s and gained recognition for his WPA murals in the 1930s, the Academy did not purchase any of his works until 1958.
Threshold to Success (cat. no. 318), painted in 1955, is typical of Evergood's later style. His satire is less bitter than in his earlier works and is mixed with a critical humor. Evergood began this painting as a demonstration piece for a summer school course he was conducting at Duluth University. The final result was an erotic fantasy based on the daydreams of a young athlete with scholarly pretensions. Dressed in a football uniform and mortarboard, the youth clutches a large book stamped with the names of Old Testament heroes, great writers, scientists, and artists. His awakening sexual fantasies involve scantily dressed women who frolic in the upper regions of the painting. Space is drastically compressed, and the proportions of the youth are exaggerated. The heavy-handed satire found in Evergood's earlier paintings has been tempered here by his acceptance of human weakness and the humor with which he approaches his subject.
Rico Lebrun's The Listening Dead (cat. no. 323), painted in 1957 and acquired by the Academy in 1962, is characteristic of the artist's concern with man's suffering, torments, and fears. In 1956 Lebrun began to deal with the atrocities at Buchenwald and Dachau in his paintings. Photographic documentation of the grisly happenings in the German concentration camps provided him with a source for his violent imagery. In the tradition of Goya, Orozco, and Picasso, Lebrun's Listening Dead depicts the tragedy of the condemned man awaiting his final execution. The artist's skillful draftsmanship combined with a subtle use of color suggests the underlying violence and psychological intensity of Lebrun's personal vision. Throughout his lifetime Lebrun remained an articulate and compassionate humanist.
Conrad Marca-Relli's skill with collage and his ability to create monumental paintings in a personal idiom attracted the attention of the Academy, although no works by other members of the New York School had yet been purchased for the permanent collection, His collage The Hurdle (cat. no.126) was purchased by the Academy in 1960 and was one of the first works that it acquired by an artist associated with Abstract Expressionism.
Marca-Relli is an American-born painter who has maintained close ties with European art throughout his life. He was born in Boston in 1911 and received his first drawing lessons in Italy. After studying at Cooper Union in 1930, he taught in both the mural and easel divisions of the WPA Federal Arts Project. His paintings of the 1940s featured surrealistic dream spaces dominated by motifs derived from Italian Renaissance architecture in the manner of De Chirico.
In the early 1950s, Marca-Relli's compositions became more abstract, and he began to introduce the collage technique into his work. In 1953 he moved to East Hampton and developed friendships with Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Some of Marca-Relli's figurative works of that year may have been inspired by de Kooning's Woman I, which was created from collage elements.
Marca-Relli's work can be linked to Abstract Expressionism became of his spontaneous shifting and rearranging of collage segments. After a series of pictures in which a single figure was flattened against the picture plane, Marca-Relli's collages became more dynamic. The Hurdle represents the last phase of a series of works begun in the mid-1950s, in which biomorphic canvas shapes are interlocked with energetically brushed areas of color. In The Hurdle, Marca-Relli established an intricate spatial relationship between the dynamic forms, suggesting figures or animals jumping over a hurdle, and the surrounding space. The static, hieratic arrangements of his earlier studies of single figures are replaced by a dynamic composition involving figures which move diagonally through space. Complex configurations of shapes, textures, and colors are locked in convulsive motion.
At a time when artists were expanding the vocabulary, the scale, and the range of materials utilized in sculpture, the Academy awarded prizes to and purchased much more traditional works. In the annual exhibition of 1960, Lee Bontecou's Grounded Bird (cat. no. 312) received the Widener Gold Medal and was purchased for the Academy's collection. Bontecou was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1931. From 1952 to 1954 she studied at the Art Students League with William Zorach. Grounded Bird, cast in 1957, was produced during her two years of study in Rome under a Fulbright Grant. All of her sculptures from that period involved fantastic birds and animals which were made by attaching terracotta sections to an armature and finishing them in canvas or bronze. In recent years Bontecou has gained international recognition for her constructions of canvas and welded steel.
The direct carver William Zorach was chairman of the sculpture jury for the 1960 annual exhibition; so it is not surprising that both Lee Bontecou and Isamu Noguchi were awarded medals. Girl Torso (cat. no. 328), a carving in Greek marble by Noguchi, received the Logan Medal and was purchased for the permanent collection. Noguchi's highly polished marbles were unusual in the 1940s and 1950s, when most sculptors were creating expressionistic surfaces of direct-metal construction or junk sculpture.
Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 of Japanese-American parentage. His childhood was spent in Japan, where he first became sensitive to natural materials. At a young age, he decided to become a sculptor and studied briefly at the Da Vinci School in New York. The most significant experience of his early years was his work in the studio of Constantin Brancusi in 1927. Under the tutelage of Brancusi, Noguchi increased his facility with wood and stone. During the 1930s he worked for the WPA, creating sculptures, murals, and bronzes. After 1940, Brancusi's carvings were the evident source for most of his work.
Girl Torso was first shown at the Stable Gallery in 1959 in an exhibition which Noguchi considered to be a tribute to Brancusi. Subtle surface modulations suggest the sensuous flesh of a young girl. Partially inspired by fragments of Greek statuary, Noguchi also responded to the shape and texture of the marble itself. Thus, his work is indebted to direct carvers of the twentieth century as well as to Greece and to Japan.
During the 1960s, the Academy's acquisitions reflected limited acceptance of some contemporary developments in American art, although the stipulations of existing purchase funds precluded the acquisition of many works by major artists of the period. The Gilpin Fund did provide money for the purchase in 1962 of Route Barree (cat. no. 313), a mobile by Alexander Calder. Calder was a native of Philadelphia who had many associations with the Pennsylvania Academy; his grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder, and his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, had studied there, and his mother, the former Nanette Lederer, had also been a student. Although the Academy could not claim any direct responsibility for the international success of the creator of the mobile and the stabile, members of the board and the faculty probably thought to honor the memory of Stirling Calder and Milne Calder by acquiring a work by their internationally renowned descendant.
Alexander Calder was born in 1898. He received a degree in engineering before attending the Art Students League in New York. In 1926 Calder went to Paris where he established friendships with some of the leading avant-garde artists, including Piet Mondrian, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, and Joan Mira. Calder created his first kinetic sculpture in 1931, and, soon after, he produced wind-driven mobiles suspended from a single wire. His recent mobiles show few variations from his earliest ones, except for an increase in scale and complexity.
Route Barree is typical of the mobiles constructed by Calder during the past forty years. Organically shaped metal pieces are balanced on the ends of heavy gauge wire rods. Colors, sizes of the metal plates, spatial relationships, and speed of movement vary from element to element, resulting in a complex kinetic configuration. This is one of the few sculptures in the Academy's collection in which the constructivist methods and materials have been utilized.
Like Calder, Stuart Davis was a native Philadelphian whose creative years spanned four decades, but who received little recognition at the Academy until the last years of his life. He received the Temple Gold Medal only five months before his death for Letter and His Ecol (cat. no. 314), a major purchase for the Academy's collection.
Stuart Davis was born in 1894. Although he was a student of Robert Henri and a friend of artists of the Ashcan School, Davis considered the Armory Show of 1913 to have been the most profound influence on the future development of his work. During the 1920s, Davis experimented with cityscapes and still-life paintings, combining the vocabulary of Cubism with Fauve color. He painted murals for the WPA during the 1930s. The rhythms of jazz music, which Davis associated with the American landscape, appeared in his works of the 1940s as abstract color harmonies combined with flat patterns and rich textures. In his later years Davis's work became more monumental, but the complex arrangement of elements on a flat surface remained.
About 1963 Davis painted Letter and His Ecol which represents his final exploration of word fragments as abstract forms and symbols. The dynamic opposition of precisely defined color areas is the rhythmic counterpart of Davis's view of American life. In other paintings, he utilized popular advertisements and commercial products, providing a link between the American trompe l'oeil paintings of the late nineteenth century and American Pop Art of the 1960s.
The acquisition of a painting by Richard Diebenkorn in 1964, the same year that the Stuart Davis was purchased, suggests that the Academy was willing to honor promising younger artists. However, the selection of his Interior with Doorway (cat. no. 310) demonstrates the Academy's continuing preference for representational painting.
Richard Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1922. In the early 1940s he studied at Stanford University and at the University of California. Stationed near Washington, D.C., during the Second World War, he frequented the Phillips Collection where he saw works by Matisse, Bonnard, Picasso, and Braque -- artists who were all concerned with the figurative image conceived in abstract terms. In 1946 he enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, where David Park became his most influential teacher and friend. By the following year he was teaching' at the school along with Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, and Edward Corbett. Contact with these artists caused Diebenkorn to abandon his earlier figurative approach and to adopt a non-objective, expressionistic style.
Diebenkorn's paintings remained abstract until 1900 when he became dissatisfied with the explosive emotionalism of his paintings and returned to a quieter, figurative style. Some critics were disdainful of his new work. but he continued to follow his convictions regarding the need for a recognizable subject in his work. Still, abstraction remained essential to Diebenkorn, even in his representational paintings. Observed motifs were organized into asymmetrical compositions of color areas counterbalanced by the suggestion of pictorial space.
Interior with Doorway is a picture of the studio Diebenkorn built in the hills of Berkeley. California during the summer of 1956, the time when he made the crucial change in his style. There is a special significance, therefore, to the subject chosen, even though no figures are included in this canvas. Diebenkorn sees his studio, as well as his canvas, as a manmade structure within which pictorial events can take place. The observed and the remembered are combined, both from experience and from art.
The darkness of the studio interior contrasts sharply with the rectangular areas of the light formed by the opened door and windows. Geometric forms dominate the painting. Light and dark areas, horizontals, and verticals organize the composition. The predominant grid structure is relieved only by the diagonals of the folding chair and the oblique angle of the transom above the door. An introspective mood is suggested here: personal experiences, the inner life of the artist, and his activities in this studio are implied. Despite its formalist organization, the painting is subjective in approach, exploring the recesses of the artist's mind and the reality outside his door. The artist's presence is implied here. No figures are needed.
Diebenkorn's more recent work, such as the Ocean Park Series, represents the achievement of artistic maturity and the synthesis of his early Abstract Expressionist style with the discipline of his figurative style.
Between 1966 and 1968, several abstract paintings and sculpture were acquired for the collection, including works by Richard Anuskiewicz, Julian Stanczak, Edna Andrade, and Harry Bertoia. The Academy purchased Interlocking Shadows (cat. no. 337) by Stanczak, an artist involved in perceptual abstraction, less than a year after five shows devoted to so-called "Optical Art" had been installed in New York. In 1968 Helen Frankenthaler and Seymour Lipton were awarded gold medals in the annual exhibition further indicating that the Academy was beginning to recognize artists with more innovative, abstract styles. In the same year, the Academy purchased Systematic Whole (cat. no. 309) by Richard Anuskiewicz, another artist involved with perceptual abstraction.
Anuskiewicz became the leading American Op artist, but his interest in the interaction of colors in geometric configurations antedates the Op Art movement of the early 1960s. He was born in Erie, Pennsylvania, in 1930. After three years of study at the Cleveland Institute of Art, he went to Yale for instruction with Josef Albers. Under Albers's expert tutelage, Anuskiewicz reevaluated his previous work. A tendency toward precision and symmetry and an interest in the exploration of intricate figure-ground relationships, already apparent in his earlier work, evolved into definitive perceptual studies. Anuskiewicz himself considers Albers's greatest influence on him to have been "making me color sensitive, making me aware of the properties and possibilities of color. 
Many of Anuszkiewicz's paintings, including the Academy's Systematic Whole, are composed of a series of nested squares which produce an optical illusion. These precise linear structures can be viewed as four pyramidal forms or as narrow corridors leading to a distant aperture. Albers favored the square for many of his compositions and explored similar optical effects in his Graphic Tectonics series. Systematic Whole is typical of the hard-edged, surgically precise painting which emerged as one of the stylistic alternatives to Abstract Expressionism. The basic illusion, involving variations in luminosity and the kinetic energy of shifting viewpoints, is mostly achieved through line. But the interrelationships of color are orchestrated with a resonance that fortifies the retinal stimulus of line. The picture surface vibrates with linear configurations and color harmonies which are intended to engage the perceptual energies of the beholder.
Edna Andrade, a Philadelphia artist and a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy, represents a local response to the interest in optical effects in painting. Andrade was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1917. During her years of study at the Academy, she was awarded a Cresson Scholarship for European travel and instruction. In the 1940s and 1950s she worked as a graphic designer and as an instructor in color and design. Presently she is an associate professor at the Philadelphia College of Art.
Torsion (cat. no. 308), a painting created by Andrade in 1973, is an example of her personal approach to the formal problems addressed by optical painters. The painting is divided into two opposing rectangular configurations joined by a brilliant yellow strip. Red hemispheres are attached at either end of the yellow band and serve as the points of convergence for a system of lines which radiate at oblique angles from the corners of the rectangles. Diagonal lines change into horizontal lines at points along a curve formed by the conjunction of circular arcs to form the overall configuration of a circle within a square. Although the two rectangular areas suggest movement in space, the yellow strip anchors the composition to the two-dimensional surface.
Harry Bertoia is another local artist who is represented in the Academy's collection. Bertoia served as chairman of the sculpture jury for the 1966 annual, and his metal construction Tonal (cat. no. 311) was purchased by the Academy in 1968; it is one of the few nonfigurative sculptures in the permanent collection.
Bertoia was born in 1915 in San Lorenzo, Italy. He came to the United States in 1930 and studied at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Before turning to sculpture, Bertoia worked as a furniture designer and graphic artist. He has since created architectural sculpture for public buildings, including a fountain for the Civic Center in Philadelphia.
Tonal is a "musical" sculpture. In this piece, the artist investigated problems of vertical balance and sound. Bertoia has indicated that the work is meant to be touched, "as that is part of the pleasure and is the main reason for its sound-producing form." The artist's experiments with sound in sculpture stem from his lifelong interest in music. He discovered that different tonalities could be produced by using various metals and by varying the length, diameter, and separation of the metal rods. When the tips of the metal rods are touched, vibrations are transmitted through to the metal bases of the sculptures, resulting in a sound.
Bertoia's Tonal, an iron and glass work by Italo Scanga, and Rafael Ferrer's Neon Comer (cat. no. 319) are the only works in the collection that approximate the non-figurative approach, the economy of means, and the utilization of modern industrial materials found in Minimal sculpture.
The demise of the annual exhibitions was foreshadowed in 1968 by the change to an invitational format. In that year the director chose a jury of three painters and three sculptors who were asked to invite individual artists to exhibit groups of their works. In addition, the deans of Philadelphia's five art institutions were asked to choose thirty works by artists in the Philadelphia area. No provisions were made for unsolicited works. This kind of invitational exhibition was a distinct departure from the Academy's traditional policy of selecting works for the annuals. There had been a certain pride over the years in the fact that any artist could submit his work for consideration by the jury. The purpose of some of the purchase funds, such as the Lambert Fund, was the support of younger, relatively unknown artists. Restructuring of the selection process, therefore, undermined the original intention of the fund donor because the roster of artists was limited to those who had already gained critical attention.
In 1969, the annual exhibitions were discontinued. The increase in operational costs was only one of many factors which resulted in this decision. Before the final annual, thousands of unsolicited works were sent to the jurors; review of these paintings and sculpture was a time-consuming task and an expensive undertaking for the Academy. Moreover, the Academy was also aware that the annual was not adequately representing all of the major developments in contemporary art. In his candid and critical review of the annual exhibition of 1968, John Canaday doubted the alleged impartiality of the artist-jurors:
In the 1970s a resurgence of interest in figurative art gradually began to fuse with other contemporary trends. Artists did not abandon formalist considerations totally, but these concerns were combined with a growing commitment to representational imagery. New Realism has contributed to this revival of the figurative, but even former Pop artists such as Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein have favored themes involving human experiences or have returned to more traditional realist imagery. They have joined innovative materials and methods with the representational.
Claes Oldenburg, for example, wants to make works which express his passionate engagement with his environment, but he uses objects of popular culture rather than effigies of humanity to accomplish his intentions. The complexities of life are expressed through the metaphor of commercial products. Oldenburg was originally identified with Pop Art, but his transformation of consumer items is more radical and more intentionally topical than that of most Pop artists. The profound humanism in most of his works sets him apart from other artists using popular icons.
Oldenburg was born in 1929 in Stockholm, Sweden. His childhood was spent in New York City, Oslo, and Chicago. After graduating from Yale in 1950 with a major in art and literature, he became an apprentice reporter in Chicago. From 1952 to 1954 he attended the Art Institute of Chicago. In the late 1950s Oldenburg moved to New York, where he became involved with a group of avant-garde artists initiating a new form of art called "Happenings." In the early 1960s Oldenburg participated in many Happenings which directly involved the audience in the artistic process. After creating stage-props and costumes for these events, he was inspired to plan a major environmental work, The Store. In The Store, painted replicas of consumer items, food, and familiar household necessities were sold. These items evoked the human being without incorporating his image. Oldenburg continued to produce similar objects throughout the 1960s. He favored soft vinyl or canvas stuffed with kapok for many of his pieces. These large-scale, collapsing objects suggested the weariness of man, the frustration and exhaustion of life itself. Oldenburg wrote:
Thus Oldenburg's objects serve as surrogates for the human body. Man is evoked through the consumer products, clothes, and food that he uses.
The Soft Baked Potato, Open and Thrown, Scale A (cat. no. 329) would satisfy a Brobdingnagian appetite, but the materials used here distinguish this item from its natural state. The canvas skins of the potato zip open to reveal butter pats which are almost one foot wide. Changes in the materials and the normal scale of his objects are important aspects of Oldenburg's work. His art is involved with change; every time the soft sculptures are moved, their forms are readjusted. Oldenburg views his objects as involving life processes. The fragility of his works suggests the perishable, the transitory nature of life itself. In addition, his objects become more evocative when their scale is increased to colossal dimensions.
Oldenburg's interest in the baked potato dates from the early 1960s. The potato is a soft form which is similar in its natural state to some of the artist's soft sculpture. It carries its own jacket, which can be pulled back or broken, like a banana, to reveal its own insides. Baked Potato II, for example, was larger than actual scale and made of burlap soaked in plaster and painted with enamel. The original soft state of the potato was transformed and presented in a "hard" format. Oldenburg wrote about the potato:
In Soft Baked Potato, Scale A the separate pats of butter can be removed so that the sensual experience of slitting open the potato and laying in the butter can be repeated endlessly. The artist has proposed a baked potato as a colossal monument for Grand Army Plaza in New York City. Oldenburg has supplanted the traditional bronze statue of the war hero with a monument representing American dietary delights on a heroic scale.
Although the Academy has yet to acquire a work by Oldenburg, recent acquisitions give evidence that representational art is still the prevailing interest of the Pennsylvania Academy. But it is also evident that representational imagery, especially New Realism, is dominant among contemporary artists on the national scene as well.
New Realism is a very generalized term which encompasses the works of many contemporary artists. Some of these artists are humanistic in their approach, while others represent a continuation of the objective formalist principles of the abstract paintings and sculpture of the 1960s. Of the more humanistic artists working in a figurative style, the Academy has acquired works by George Segal, Tommy Palmore, and Raymond Saunders. These artists use representational imagery but can be linked only indirectly with the New Realists. Their interest in figurative art is not a recent development in their work, nor do they utilize the photographic technology or formalist principles of the New Realists.
George Segal's Girl Against a Post (cat. no. 336), a recent acquisition by the Academy, is an example of humanism in contemporary art. Although Segal was identified with Pop Art because he combined plaster figures with actual objects of popular culture, his personal involvement with his subjects and his desire to reveal their inner nature is contrary to the dispassionate approach of most Pop artists. When asked to comment on this sculpture, Segal wrote:
Thus, the combination of plaster and wood is not intended simply as a representational image but is meant to suggest the thoughts and feelings of the girl.
Segal was born in 1924 in New York City. He studied at Cooper Union School of Art and Rutgers University. During the early 1950s, Segal produced expressionistic paintings and participated in a number of Happenings which were organized at his New Jersey farm by Allen Kaprow. In 1958 he began experimenting with life-size figures made of wire, plaster, and burlap. By 1960 the artist had given up painting completely and was producing plaster casts made from identifiable human models. His subjects were often members of his own family, artists, and friends. Segal's sculptures also involved locations with which he was familiar: his own home, the local bus depot, gas station, and restaurant.
Segal's sculpture of the 1970s, including Girl Against a Post, are often only fragments of human figures and relate only vaguely to the surrounding environment. The sculptures are meant to be hung on a wall like reliefs, rather than placed in an architectural space created by the artist. Segal revitalized the tradition of figurative sculpture in America. Considering the Academy's historical commitment to the figurative, it is highly appropriate for a work by Segal to be included in the permanent collection.
Jack Johnson (cat. no. 335) by Raymond Saunders was also purchased for the Academy's collection in 1974; it was the first in his series of paintings of black culture heroes. A graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy, Saunders adhered to the artistic precepts of his teachers and considered his canvases as vehicles for intensely personal expression. Saunders was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1934. He studied at the Carnegie Institute of Technology before being awarded a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy in 1953. In 1956 he received the Cresson European Travel Fellowship. Saunders received the M. F. A. in 1961 from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. He has been a visiting artist at the Pennsylvania Academy and the Rhode Island School of Design, and since 1969 he has been professor of painting at California State College.
Although Saunders often exhibits with contemporary black artists who are concerned with racial issues, his interest is in a basic humanism, and he does not require a socio-political message as the raison d'être for his paintings. Although Saunders's work has assumed a violent expressionism, his concern with human experience derives from his Academy background. Jack Johnson features a truncated figure, brutally cropped and presented among color areas into which his name and dates have been incised.
A sculpture by Duane Hanson would be an appropriate addition to the Academy's collection. Hanson, in the venerable tradition of the Ashcan School, and the Social Realists, prefers democratic, anti-elitist subject matter. The blue-collar worker is Hanson's hero, characterized not just by his appearance but by his activities and the objects which surround him. Man in Chair with Beer (cat. no. 321) represents a workman home from a long day on the job. His well-worn shoes and clothing are soiled and sweaty. The man holds a can of beer but appears too exhausted to drink. The discarded evening paper is scattered on the floor.
Hanson's sculptures involve the afflictions which result from life in contemporary America: drug addiction, alcoholism, violence, frustration. In Man in Chair with Beer the artist comments on the boring, unrewarding existence of the common laborer. He suggests the futility of an occupation which leaves the worker too tired to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Hanson was born in 1925 in Alexandria, Minnesota. The artist studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the University of Washington. His early work included experimentation with wood, clay, and metal, and he did not begin working with life-size painted figures until 1967. Hanson's first figures were placed in an environment which the artist created for the works. During the late 1960s his sculptures often involved heavy-handed social commentary, but recently he has stressed the individuality of his sitters. The sculptures invade our space and our lives. Hanson intends the spectator to identify with the figures he creates and, through them, to confront the reality of his own life.
Segal, Saunders, and Hanson are New Humanists. These artists, as well as many others working in a figurative style in the 1970s, are indebted to Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Color-field Abstraction of the preceding decades. The New Humanists are not simply revisionists, although they can be justifiably linked with the Social Realists of the 1930s and 1940s. As Schwartz states in his book, The New Humanism:
Thus, New Humanism is distinguishable from other humanistic styles because of its freedom from an overriding ideology. Many of the New Realists, however, find it unnecessary and undesirable to impose humanist content on their representational imagery. Their primary concern is the affirmation of visual perception. Although there are individual differences among New Realists, subject matter is a common denominator. All of the artists avoid narrative themes and symbolism. They seek out the banal, the inglorious aspects of everyday life. Most often, their involvement is with their immediate experiences, indicated by such divergent images as superhighways, store-fronts, studio interiors, and beach scenes. These artists are different from the traditional realists who were also preoccupied with the commonplace. For the New Realist, the boundaries of contemporary American life have been narrowed to the artist's immediate circle of friends and his environment. Technical innovations also separate him from the realist tradition. The utilization of radical and arbitrary cropping, the close-up vantage point, the precision of execution, and the assertion of the flat pictorial surface are the legacy of the reductionist painters of the 1960s. The concern with scale and space intervals and the dispassionate attitude towards subjects can also be linked to television and film of the 1960s and 1970s.
New Realism has helped to destroy the modernist myth that twentieth-century art has been a continuous progression toward pure abstraction. It is to the credit of the Pennsylvania Academy that is has accepted this contemporary development and has purchased works by New Realists soon after they were first exhibited. The Academy owns works by Noel Mahaffey, John Moore (cat. no. 327) , and Philip Pearlstein, all of which were acquired during the past five years.
Richard Estes's Candy Store (cat. no. 317) is an interesting counterpart to Atlanta, Georgia (cat. no. 325) by Noel Mahaffey, a graduate of the Academy. Both paintings involve the urban landscape. Estes includes a close-up of a single shop window in New York City. Mahaffey presents an aerial view of the unremarkable skyline of Atlanta at twilight. Precision of brushwork, cropping of forms. and lack of compositional focus are common to both works.
Estes comes to terms with the realities of everyday experience, but with a dispassionate eye. He wrote:
This concern with objectivity resulted in such paintings as Candy Store, which conveys no special content or narrative suggestion. It incorporates image and reflection of image and transforms both into a Hat pictorial pattern. Fluorescent light bars inside the store form a series of chevrons, a representational equivalent of the abstract forms favored by Kenneth Noland and other Post-Painterly Abstractionists. Reflections of buildings, automobiles, and pedestrians compete with the signs pasted on the store window to limit the illusion of spatial recession. Estes uses photographs only as an equivalent of preliminary sketches in the preparation of his paintings. The paintings are constructed after a careful selection of perceptual data.
Noel Mahaffey was born in St. Augustine, Florida, in 1944 and attended art classes at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1959. He studied at the Pennsylvania Academy from 1962 to 1966 and continues to reside in Philadelphia. As a product of the Academy's art instruction, he demonstrates that the realist tradition can be effectively linked to New Realism.
Mahaffey's paintings resemble large-scale postcards of American cities. Atlanta, Georgia is a panoramic view of an urban landscape. The oblique angle of vision and the distant viewpoint prevent direct involvement with the subject. The artist is mindful of the formalist aesthetic. Dark silhouettes form a flat pattern against an unmodulated sky; the buildings are cropped; no compositional focal point disturbs the pictorial surface. The cool, precise brushwork, lacking expressive modulation, is a product of the hard-edged canvases of the 1960s.
It is particularly appropriate that one of the Academy's promised gifts is a painting by Philip Pearlstein, Two Female Models -- on Hammock and Seated on Floor (cat. no. 332). The selection of his frankly observed, large-scale depiction of nude models suggests the new maturity of vision at the Pennsylvania Academy. Ninety years ago Thomas Eakins was dismissed from the faculty for advocating the use of the naked male as a class model. Today Pearlstein juxtaposes male and female nudes with about as many prurient overtones as two pieces of fruit in a basket. Pearlstein takes the ultimate risk in his paintings -- the use of the human figure as a still-life object. The artist's principal concern is with the problems of painting, and he denies any evocative or expressive intention in his depiction of nudes. The models are shown slouching, sitting, posing with a suggestion of the psychic detachment of the act. Formalist concerns dominate Pearlstein's compositions, and the nudes have as much expressive force as "academies," those dispassionate drawings of uncomfortably posed nude models by generations of art students.
Philip Pearlstein was born in 1924 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After several years studying painting and design at Carnegie Institute of Technology, he went to New York in the early 1950s. Pearlstein combined painting and design work with study in art history at New York University. The major influence on his paintings up to 1960 was Abstract Expressionism. Aside from a few figurative paintings, his most successful works were expressionistic landscapes. These paintings seem indebted to de Kooning or Soutine in the violence of their brushwork, but the colors are more somber. After studying in Italy on a Fulbright Grant in 1958, Pearlstein began to work in a more realistic style. In 1962 he showed his first group of figurative works. From that year until the present, Pearlstein has continued to paint directly from the model.
Two Female Models -- on Hammock and Seated on Floor gives evidence of his use of harsh studio lighting which bleaches out skin tones and casts strong shadows. Radical cropping, close-up vantage point, large scale, and precision of execution link this painting with New Realism. Unlike many of the New Realists, Pearlstein does not use a camera, even for preliminary studies. His painting is created from many separate visual experiences. In this painting he includes a seated woman, a reclining woman, and a pattern of shadows which alludes to the gentle motion of the hammock. The implied motion of the reclining nude is contrasted with the stability of the seated figure. Pearlstein suggests the passage of time here, because the painting was produced over an extended period in which both model and hammock shifted position. Pearlstein reminds us that his paintings are far removed from snapshots. The flat pictorial surface asserted by the immediacy of the models in the foreground of the composition and the pattern of cast shadows opposes the illusion of space suggested by the oblique line of the baseboard and the interior modeling of the figures.
During the 1970s New Realism has continued as a significant aspect of the contemporary art scene. The Academy has recognized that this new representational style has roots in the past. Thus it is very appropriate for the Pennsylvania Academy to unite tradition with modernity by acquiring paintings by the New Realists. The Academy has purchased excellent paintings and sculptures throughout its history. By selecting fine examples of recent American art, the Academy will continue its commitment to artists mindful of the academic tradition and other contemporary styles.
About the author
Joan Marter is professor of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture at Rutgers. Her Rutgers' bio reports that she "has been appointed editor in chief of The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art. This five-volume reference to be published by Oxford University Press will be an entirely new and comprehensive study of the art of the Americas, reconceptualized with new methodology and topics significant to American art today. The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded a $150,000 grant for this three-year project.
"Professor Marter's recent publications include: Abstract Expressionism, The International Context (Rutgers, 2007), an edited volume with fifteen original contributions by David Anfam, Serge Guilbaut, Dore Ashton, Stephen Polcari, Ann Gibson, Ellen Landau and other scholars. Professor Marter contributed an essay "Critical Writings on Feminist Topics" to Blaze: Discourse on Art, Women, and Feminism (Cambridge Scholars, Ltd, 2008) and wrote 'Ethical Issues and Curatorial Practices,' in Ethics and the Visual Arts, edited by Elaine King and Gail Levin (Allworth, 2006). Her article 'Negotiating Abstraction: Lee Krasner, Mercedes Carles Matter and the Hofmann Years,' was published in Woman's Art Journal 28 (Fall/Winter 2007) as her contribution to a symposium organized by Stony Brook University, 'The Art and Life of Lee Krasner, Cultural Context and New Perspectives,' held in April, 2007. Many of the papers presented in this symposium were published as a special issue of WAJ devoted to Lee Krasner, in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth. Marter's other essays include: 'Dorothy Dehner' in Quaderni di Scultura Contemporanea (Matera, 2006) and 'Regarding Linda Stein's Knights and Glyphs' (New York, 2006).
"Professor Marter continues as editor of Woman's Art Journal, which has been published for 28 years, and is in its 3rd year at Rutgers. She is working with Marilyn Symmes, curator of the Morse Research Center at the Zimmerli Art Museum, and a group of graduate students on an exhibition of Pop Art prints that will open in September, 2008.
Professor Marter will also chair a session at the upcoming
annual conference of the College Art Association in Los Angeles, 2008 entitled
'Kitsch in the 60s, Modernism's Subversive Other.' She serves on the Exhibitions
Committee of the College Art Association."
Resource Library editor's note
The above exhibition catalogue text was reprinted in Resource Library on August 1, 2008, with permission of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The permission was granted to TFAO on June 10, 2008. Professor Marter's essay pertains to In This Academy: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805 - 1976, which was on view at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1976 as a special Bicentennial exhibition.
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Barbara Katus, Rights and Reproduction Manager of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Stacey Wittig for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.
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