In the world of art, the spotlight of rediscovery sometimes shines in the unlikeliest places.
Take the case of Albert Bloch. The Missouri-born artist of German descent was, for a period of about eight years near the turn of the century, at the forefront of the development of modern art in Germany, exhibiting his paintings alongside such luminaries as Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Paul Klee, and Pablo Picasso. Arthur Jerome Eddy, one of the foremost collectors of early modern art, considered Bloch the major American artist working in Europe at the time. Yet, today he is virtually unknown.
An exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., attempts to bring Albert Bloch out from obscurity and make better known his contribution to modern art. Entitled "Albert Bloch: the American Blue Rider," the show consists of about 80 paintings and works on paper, spanning the artist's career from his early days as an illustrator in St. Louis, to his later paintings, executed in his attic studio in Lawrence, Kan., where he lived for the last four decades of his life. "We're accustomed to thinking that all the major American artists are known at this point," says Henry Adams, co-curator of the exhibition, who thinks this is a rare example of a major artist resurfacing. "We haven't had a chance to look at Bloch's work as a whole. This is really the first truly serious show of his work. I think that Bloch ranks with just about any of the major American modernists." If Albert Bloch has any name recognition, it has come through his membership in Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider), an international group of artists working in Munich between 1911 and 1914. Bloch had moved to Munich in 1909 after four successful years producing caricatures, political cartoons, and cover illustrations - and occasional reviews and stories - for the Mirror, an adventurous weekly magazine that published ground-breaking work by controversial American authors. The Blue Rider was formed by Kandinsky and Marc, leaders of the German avant-garde. The group, of whom Bloch was the only American, produced two exhibitions and books, which shaped seminal aspects of 20th-century art. Though short-lived, the Blue Rider was an extraordinarily influential group, "the most important artists association in Germany at the beginning of the century," according to Annegret Hoberg, curator at the Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich and co-curator of the Nelson-Atkins exhibition. The first Blue Rider show, in 1911, was a landmark, one of the two or three most important exhibitions in this century. It was the first international exhibit of modern art outside of France and the first to include Russian, American, French, and German artists. The bold outlines, non-naturalistic colors, and simplified forms of the Blue Rider paintings were radical forms of expression at a time when academic painting was the norm, and the show received harsh criticism initially. …