“How do you like your husband’s new paintings,” historian Alf Evers reported that artist Henry Lee McFee’s wife was asked (she also being the sister of artist and Byrdcliffe co-founder Bolton Brown).
“I mean to like ‘em,” she is said to have replied. “Even if it kills me.”
Embracing the New: Modernism’s Impact on Woodstock Artists — the show that opens alongside a swath of exhibits at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum Saturday, February 9 — captures a time when art could shape a town’s future, and lead to fisticuffs and political battles. It harks back to a day when to discuss an art work you had to go and see it. The new wasn’t reproduced in print, let alone online. More importantly, we’re talking about an era, a century ago, when folks could spend a summer, years even, talking about what they may have seen on a European trip, or down in the new galleries just starting to open in New York City. It was a time such talk helped shape the way this community of Woodstock spoke about art and, in turn, attracted other artists who wanted to join such conversation, both in words and via their own art-making.
Featuring works by Alexander Archipenko, Konrad Cramer, Andrew Dasburg, Henry Lee McFee, Charles Rosen, the show speaks of Woodstock’s early 20th century days of ferment, when Byrdcliffe was taking hold, Hervey White was getting his Maverick experiment off the ground, the Arts Students League was setting up local roots, and a host of young artists were moving north from New York to be among their type. Embracing The New attempts to understand the ways in which the artistic influence of Europe’s avant-garde landed on our local art scene. It takes two lines…one, the effects of European art, from Cezanne and Matisse to Picasso and the Surrealists, on local stylistic experiments. And more directly, the role that the epochal 1913 Armory Show — where Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase nearly started a riot, along with other trend-changing works — had on local artists who submitted paintings to it, and then started showing in galleries influenced by its radicalism.
According to WAAM, Embracing The New will celebrate the centennial of the Armory Show, also to be noted this year with major exhibitions at the Montclair Art Museum and the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library. WAAM will include two talks by prominent historians associated with the Historical Society exhibition and catalogue to highlight the various themes highlighted locally — an April 13 event with independent scholar and author Avis Berman whose talk, titled “We Were Only Waiting for This Moment to Arise: American Collectors and the Armory Show” will precede Kimberly Orcutts,“Myth, Controversy, and Modern Art: Reconsidering the 1913 Armory Show,” on April 20.
What’s on view from our local talent here? How do the old battlelines between the likes of Art Students League classicist Birge Harrison and newer talents such as Archipenko get brought to life, along with the explosion of talent as young artists incorporated, and grew from, what they were being exposed to then?
Robert W. Chanler’s Parody of the Fauve Painters makes fun of young artists paying homage to Matisse, portrayed as a chimp, while Louis Bouché uses the same master’s palette for his own 1917 nude (Chanler was actually included in the Armory show himself). Armory show participant Andrew Dasburg is represented by local landscapes that seek to capture “Father of Modernism” Paul Cezanne’s brushstrokes, and sensibility, while Konrad Cramer demonstrates how one can use homage as a base for deeper explorations. Archipenko’s Repose, from 1911, is a version of a work actually displayed at the Armory exhibition.
“Art is dead! Let us bury him,” was how some local artists put it in a ceremony they performed on Rock City Road in the decade following Armory and all the changes set in motion just as our local art colony was forming itself (as reported by historian Alf Evers). “Here lies art…”
And on it goes…
It will all be up through May 5, with a special WAAM Family Day on the topic of Cubism set from 1p.m. to 3 p.m. for Saturday, March 16, including a kid-friendly tour of the exhibition.
It all opens, along with a member’s New Works exhibit curated by gallerist Carrie Haddad of Hudson, a solo show by glass artist Peter Bynum, and works by Annette Jaret, and Arm of the Sea Puppet Theater, this Saturday, February 9 from 4 p.m.-6 p.m.
The Woodstock Artists Association and Museum is located at 28 Tinker Street. Call 679-2940 or visit www.woodstockart.org for further information.