“American ‘Modernism’ (By the Second Viewer),”
by James Britton
Charity is the virtue required of the reviewer who would deal at all favorably with the group of consciously “advanced” Americans now showing oils, drawings and sculptures at the Montross Gaalleries, 550 Fifth Ave., until Apr. 24. Compassion for the spirits who now contort themselves in their art, in imitation of European innovators, is easily gained by the known abilities of Maurice B. Prendergast and Arthur B. Davies, especially by the talent of Prendergast, which is logically developing here along lines long since established. The skill of Davies is scarcely more exciting, when employed as at the present, in monumental suggestion of Picabia than in the charming little reminiscent Venetian things of some years ago. The large “Decoration, Dances” recalls Picabia’s “Dance at the Spring” forcibly, but as the recollection has to do particularly with a surface of geometricized forms more or less complex, one should not quarrel with this clever painter. For the imitation is only superficial.
“American Taste in Art”
The experiment at the Art Alliance, its “American Taste in Art” exhibit chosen by an “innocent” jury of business executives who have not been particularly noted for their interest in the product of the studio, has been selected and hung, and the citations have been given.
To judge by such results as can be tabulated from a list of the works on display, the taste of the jurors did not differ greatly from the more conventional panels of artists and critics, for the names seem to be about the same. The largest of the prizes went to Anne in Blue by Leon Kroll, an artist who can never plead neglect by his contemporaries, professional and otherwise. Another prize given by these judges who probably do know their Degas fairly well from the handsome show of his work seen at the Philadelphia Museum a few years ago, went to the thoroughly charming if slightly saccharine White Ballet by Everett Shinn.
The present-day penchant for ferocity, single-mindedness and ambiguity may stand in the way of a full response to an art at once so open and so limited as Pissarro’s, unredeemed by either emotional undertow or technical bravura…. In the late ’sixties and early ’seventies, with a modesty matched only by that of his first master, Corot, he produced a series of landscapes so disarming in their unassailable visual rectitude, so unforced in execution and composition that Cézanne said of them in later years: “If he had continued to paint as he did in 1870, he would have been the strongest of us all.” Cézanne’s remark reminds us that Pissarro was not only endowed with the gift of seeing, but with the rarer ability to make other artists see for themselves: Cézanne, Gauguin and von Gogh bear witness to the effectiveness of Pissarro as a teacher, or rather, one whose very presence in the vincinity of the chosen motif might serve as a catalyst, a liberating agent for the act of visual response, freed from both traditional poncif and subjective authority.
The prospect has been humbling and awe-inspiring. The new possibilities have enabled designers to look beyond industry to think about the meaning of technology, to examine how products communicate their place in culture and history: there is currently no formal right or wrong in industrial design—no one dominant style, school of thought, or way of making things.
Some scholars and designers consider product design a kind of “art for the masses.” Others see it, along with advertising, as the public art form of our time. Lionel Tiger, professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, goes further: “We have failed to see,” he says, “that the industrial designers are really the folk artists of our civilization.” If Tiger is right, design has the potential in the 21st century to join with art as a medium for expressing the aspirations and the ideals of the times.
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 96.