Magazine article New Criterion

"American Modern"

Magazine article New Criterion

"American Modern"

Article excerpt

"American Modern" at Hackett Freedman Gallery, San Francisco. February 3-April 3, 2005

The surprise of "American Modern" comes in large part from Hackett Freedman's interpretation of its own grand title. All dating from between 1907 and 1942, these paintings, sculptures, and works on paper make the case for a period of advanced American art before Abstract Expressionism claimed the mantle of modernism for its own.

The artists of America's first modern generation worked to assimilate lessons from the School of Paris and blend them with their nativist intuitions. Take the case of John Marin, whose Landscape (1914) stands out as one of the stunnners of the show. The jazzily askew reds and yellows call to mind the Fauvist palette that enthralled Maria from the day in 1910 when he first visited the Steiglitz Gallery. But they also register his motif." they work to portray the sun refracted through clouds off the Maine coast near Mount Desert Island. In another painter, such a coupling of European Modernism and Emersonian naturalism might not appear so seamless. Certainly, some of Maria's own pictures fail. His signature style substitutes at times for felt texture. But even those weaker pieces reveal a painter who never allowed an aesthetic program to squelch his own emotion. And in his best pictures, such as Landscape, Marin's slanted and squiggled brush stroke and his love of the American topos are part and parcel of the same unified urge.

This weave of past and present seems standard fare for all of Michael Hackett's savvy selections, with works by Marsden Hartley, Smart Davis, John Graham, Elie Nadelman, and Gaston Lachaise. It's impossible merely to wander past their works: they exert a magnetic pull.

But the paintings which form the center of this exhibition are three by Milton Avery. With their simple curvilinear shapes and whimsical distortions, Avery's portraits and landscapes manage to convey a cool depth. …

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