A major painting by 19th-century landscape artist Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821–1872), the first African-American artist to achieve international acclaim, has been purchased by Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Painted in 1869, the work titled The Caves was originally owned by Cincinnati Abolitionist Richard Sutton Rust (1815–1906), and it remained in his family until the museum purchased it in late 2012.
Because it has been in a private collection for nearly 150 years, the painting will be accessible to the public for the first time beginning May 4, when it is displayed in the Amon Carter’s galleries.
“Duncanson is an immensely important figure in American art,” says Andrew J. Walker, director of the Amon Carter. “He was a self-taught, black artist from Cincinnati and a leading landscape painter of his time, which was a monumental accomplishment during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Owning a work by this esteemed artist greatly enriches our collection.”
Impressive in scale, the painting is approximately three feet tall and depicts an intimate view of the wilderness, with unusual geographic features of steep ravines and sandstone cliffs perforated by a canopy of evergreens and a trio of caverns.
Duncanson’s paintings seldom overtly depict the political and cultural issues of the years surrounding the Civil War, such as slavery and discrimination, according to Margi Conrads, deputy director of art and research. Instead, the artist may have included subtle cues in his landscapes that conveyed his anti-slavery position.
“His depiction of caves poses intriguing questions about whether the painting includes references to the abolitionist movement or the role of African-Americans in everyday society,” says Conrads. “Caves were among the safe havens for runaway slaves through the Civil War. Additionally, both before and after the War, African-Americans guided tourists through caves, and it’s possible Duncanson is referencing this in his painting through the figure at the cavern’s mouth.”
Four watercolors from the museum’s permanent collection by Adrien Mayers (1801?–1833) will be exhibited near the Duncanson painting through September 4. The watercolors portray an early view of Cincinnati, Duncanson’s adopted hometown and the place that nurtured his career.
Albany is one of those small towns of Texas- by the time you read its name from a road sign, it’s almost behind you. Its museum has an unassuming name – the Old Jail Art Center. You would expect to be surrounded by bluebonnets or longhorns paintings, and be ready to associate with it the quirkiness and idiosyncrasy of all things Texas, until you walk in. The wonderful art treasure trove should not be a secret kept by the two thousand local residents, but to be known and enjoyed in Texas and beyond.
The museum was founded in 1980 by Reilly Nail and his cousin Texas artist Bill Bomar, who combined their collections with their mothers ( on Asian Art) to form the core collection. Through years, it has been expanded through key donations such as William O. Gross, Jr. Collection of pre-Columbia art, furnishings from Watt Matthew’s Lambshead Ranch, Marshall Young Jr’s fund for the outdoor sculpture garden and European art, and most recently a gift from DMA/MFA Houston‘s Barrett Collection.
Often, smaller museums that grow out of individual collections more or less reflect eccentric and peculiar tastes of its founders. In the case of the Old Jail Art Center, Bill Bomer, who was the leading artist of the Fort Worth Circle, left the collection a penchant for abstract and simplified forms, bridging archaic and Oriental objects with European and American modernism. Bomar, born in a wealthy family, was an avid collector throughout his life. In 2011, the museum mounted an exhibition featuring the extensive cross collection of the artist.
I was told by many collector friends that the museum’s holdings in Fort Worth Circle is strong. Yet even with the greatly expanded gallery space (added in 2009) besides the original two-story stone-walled jail building, the breadth of the collection makes it hard to showcase its deep root in Texas homegrown abstract and surrealist art. A few can be found in the works-on-paper gallery. “The Entertainers” by Bror Utter abstracted figurative movement into distinct angular shapes of playful colors. A landscape water -color by Bill Bomar flattens the distance with weighty repetitive patterns of emerald green.
Unlike Bror Utter who carried a distinctive artistic style through his life, Bomar had worked in many modes, often taking the risk of venturing into directions untrecked.
Thus it is an extremely rare opportunity to learn about the artist through his gifts displayed in the permanent collection. It is not only interesting to see what the artist had collected during his life time, but also tempting to ponder how those personal collections are related to various styles of his own.
The elongated feature can be found both at Modigliani’s Young Girl with Braids and some small Asian and African statuettes. They echo some of Bomar’s early abstract works. For example, The Virgin Future, sold at Heritage Auctions last year, has attenuated anthropomorphic forms with distinct sculptural mass. Paul Klee’s Der Weg ins Blaue, another master piece from his collection, gives a special dull sheen through the use of hot wax mixed with dry pigments. Its naïve simplistic forms recall many of his 50’s paintings, such as Squares Gathered by the Sea, which inject two-dimensional elements like squares and lines, through dry brush strokes, into pictorial space.
At the first floor of the Jail building, I was surprised to see Asian art display, mostly from the collection of Jewel Nail Bomar, the artist’s mother. (Like any other works of art on display, their labels lack the details about when Bomar family acquired them.) It would be interesting to know what motivated her to collect tomb figurines from Wei, Sui and Tang Dynasty. The figurines created in this period have unprecedented liveliness. The sinuous forms with swaying arms or tilted toes capture dynamic moments in happy afterlife. Yet Chinese art is mostly strung by its restrained emotions — Despite some degree of exaggeration in favor of sensual expressiveness, all these figurines keep a sense of balance and fluidity. Considering the varieties of the collection and many heritages from which Bomar could draw inspiration, it occurr to me that the collection manifests Bomar’s openness to the unlimited boundaries of art and his astute readiness in pushing new ideas. What is unchanged is his unyielding belief in the transformative power of art.
At the Sculpture Courtyard, Texas sculptor Jesús Moroles’ Granite Sun greets visitors with its grand gesture. Bill Bomar recognized his talent early on and commissioned him to make this monumental sculpture for the museum. Alternating between unhewed raw surface and the polished one with warm sheen, it stuns viewers with its glorious sun disk, up in the air. The consummate craftsmanship is magnified by the fact that despite of its proportion, it was cut, hewed and sanded on one piece of pink granite. Given the tendency that Bomar often dramatized subjects with basic elements, it could be that he saw in Morole’s sculpture, a medium he could not command, luminosity, texture and abstraction folded in larger-than-life ambition, like his own.
“In the United States there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. That is what makes America what it is.”
Hardly ever there will be an exhibition more suitable to manifest Gertrude Stein’s famous quote than Sarah Williams’ current exhibition — Remote America. Yet America has changed since then. What Stein saw as quintessential America more than seven decades ago, would be unfamiliar to GenY and Millennials, raised in the cradles of urban sprawl. (The artist, only at 30, is a Millennial) Williams’ “Remote America” instead shows parcels of a rich land, transformed and lost in its physical isolation among vastness, and recollected as part of our subconsciousness under the car culture.
Stunningly beautiful, it is distillation of our collective memory of sharpened sense of places, when we were dislocated and lost in the anonymous, vast rural land. Growing up in the heartland, Williams drives around Missouri to take pictures for inspiration. The night scenes are ubiquitous. They help wipe out elements unnecessary for compelling compositions. Although it is tempting to ravish viewers with that brute force gravity of a dark background, Williams seeks beyond: Exquisite and extreme colors under artificial light.
That engenders ordinary objects, while still being instantly recognizable, to assume an uncommon appearance. Williams’ daring courage and acute sensibility in color exploration are rewarding. It is visually appeasing (with sort of a shock) to see warm orange on the snow or emerald green on a shed. For example, “Glenstone Ave” is a power-house to showcase the extreme brightness of yellow street light with subdued halos. One has to look close (not through any publication or website photos) to apprehend purples of varied shades in the background. The foreground, in contrast, echoes with lively lavender.
Have we all been there – some unknown parking lot? Perhaps. It gives you chills to see the extraordinary beauty and nuances out of places we deem as monotonous and forgettable.
Most paintings can fall into one of the two categories. Large paintings with distinct rural architecture elements often evoke a staged narrative. In them, empty and impersonal industrial and commercial buildings, engulfed under dark sky, loom large. Their geometry is imposing, the light surreal. We observe them from afar, as if to assume an air of objectivity. In return, they project a sense of stately formality.
That incongruence makes one uneasy. Or at least it would make Gertrude Stein so – how could such a place of “nowhere” so orderly yet at the same time so out of place? In “Campbell,” the blazing spot light sifts through a row of awnings, under which all windows are closed. It is mesmerizing to examine eerie patterns of light and shadow. The patterns get all our undivided attention first, until one notices the patronless business itself, receding as the mundane backdrop. In both “Paint Booth” and “East Monroe Street,” the foreground is tilted to create an emotional suspense for a rather unappealing scene: back corner of a warehouse complex. The suspense is further enhanced with intrinsic diagonal elements such as parking lot markings or car tracks in the snow. Both carry, to some extent, mannerism of contrived tension. What save them from being ostensible is the sense of becoming. They serve as a prelude of the storytelling, leaving viewers as sole interpolators of a plot forthcoming.
A series of pavement paintings, all in a square format and numbered based on the sequence, feature a different aesthetic. The penetrating third-person narrative angle in larger imageries is traded in for an intimate first-person narrative. Introvert in nature, these paintings often have only the closest part of pavement brighten up, as if lit from the viewer’s own pickup truck. The later ones in the series, in particular, shed light in the new direction of Williams’ interests in departing from realism of rectilinear nature of industrial architecture. Flattened up from the downward gaze, the pavement dissolves into abstract organic shapes of restrained colors, intersecting or interlocking. Edges are soft and fuzzy, as if while looking down, we are so devoured by the visual riddle itself that momentarily are lost in our own thought.
If time and place are exacted as potent omens of becoming in the previous case, the pavement series are moody essays of our self-absorption of being. A few paintings seem to derive from both categories as the self-conscious pavement patterns are jested against middle ground architecture.
My favorite is “Route 380.” It exuberates a wry wit on beauty, out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere. The tiny building is overshadowed by its exotic mural painting, featuring a massive building hybrid of Gothic and Byzantine style, against azure blue sky. The palm trees in the painting feel almost vulnerable on the frigid night, when pavement is covered with frosted cracks and black ice. One cannot help but following those intricate laced patterns which lead to the wall. It is through that short journey – from the dark concrete at foot, in the heartland of America, to bright-lit mural imagery, palpable with tropical balminess and ocean breeze – that one is treated with a surprise – a formidable range of colors that stretch and bridge the surreal and real.
“Remote America” is now on view at Art Museum of Southeast Texas until April 7, 2013.
It wasn’t Texas art that brought Edward Denari to begin a collection. That credit goes to a work by John Singer Sargent and a docent at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington D.C. It wasn’t early Texas art that he bought when he began that collection, but a work by tonalist master Birge Harrison.
But Texas art is where it lead.
Denari, at 91 years of age, was a guest speaker at the recent Texas Art Auction by David Dike fine art in Dallas. The one-time gallery-owner in Fort Worth spoke of his lifelong passion for collecting.
When he returned home from Washington and the insightful tour, Denari told his wife he wanted a collection. The collecting began with some guidance from dealer Joseph Sartor. According to Denari, Sartor started by explaining the need to learn to distinguish good art from bad art. Those attributes are comprised of quality, beauty and strength. The value of good art is determined by assessing three dimensions, aesthetic value, historical value and market value.
With that in mind, and a seascape by Birge Harrison in hand, he became convinced. There was one problem, he didn’t have the $800 needed for purchase. Sartor however let Denari take it home for just $35. When he asked why, Sartor told him because of the giant itch it would create.
The desire for more was created, and he went on to buy works by Robert Wood, architect Harwood K. Smith, Frank Reaugh, Blanch McVeigh and even James McNeill Whistler.
Much of it was bought below market value, and most of it has likely appreciated. It wouldn’t be the last time experts and collectors have passed over something later prized. A bit of knowledge and a quick informed assessment has often been used to compete with deep pockets. Value can go unrecognized.
“The art market can be inefficient,” Denari said comparing it to stocks. “I’ve never found a share of Wal-Mart in an antique shop.”
Despite some works surpassing high estimates in the auction, undoubtedly a few bargain purchases were also made. Denari’s words are certainly encouraging to both beginning and established collectors of Texas art and beyond.
A preview of Early Texas Art being offered in David Dike’s Texas Art Auction is on view this week in the Dallas Design District. The walls of the Wildman Art Framing building are filled with works by Otis Dozier, Everett Spruce, Dawson Dawson-Watson, Ed Bearden and others.
Not to be missed lots include Cactus in Bloom by Dawson Dawson-Watson (1939) estimated to fetch as much as $25,000. Several gentle pastels by prominent Texas artist Frank Reaugh are up for show and sale, some expected to bring as much as $10,000.In the regionalist category, a harsh landscape by Fort Worth Circle painter Kelly Fearing completed in 1941, the year he finished his education at the Louisiana Polytechnic Institute, could bring $15,000 or more. Railroad Yard in Snow by Ed Bearden (1951) presents an engaging work by one of the founding members if the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts. William Lester’s Alley (1947) is given a prominent place in the catalog, and for good reason. This Dallas Nine artist was included in the Exhibition of Young Dallas Artists at the Dallas Public Art Gallery in Fair Park way back in 1932. His paintings are held in the permanent collections of half a dozen museums including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Dallas Museum of Art.
There are of course no shortage of landscapes, including bluebonnets by Robert Wood, Eloise Polk McGill, Don Parks, Porfirio Salinas, Jesse Don Rasberry and Altie Slimp. Particularly stunning is the light captured in Grand Canyon by Dawson Dawson-Watson.
From still-life to abstracts this includes but a small sampling of the works of Early Texas Art available for show and sale in a wide-range of prices. It’s a great opportunity to stop and learn about Early texas Art and artists, as well as start or enhance a collection.
The preview is open through Friday with the auction being held at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Jackson Pollock, Alfonso Ossorio, and Jean Dubuffet were among a group of artists in the mid-1950s who sought a different pictorial language through innovative use of materials and techniques. This February, The Phillips Collection pulls back the curtain on American abstract expressionism to reveal a little-known but captivating story that focuses on the relationship between three of the movement’s seminal players.
Featuring approximately 53 paintings and works on paper from 1945 to 1958, the exhibition illuminates a key moment in postwar art—one that was profoundly influenced by the artists’ transcontinental dialogue. It also reunites a number of works by Pollock and Dubuffet from Ossorio’s collection for the first time since they were dispersed after his death in 1990. The exhibition is on view February 9 through May 12, 2013.
Angels, Demons, and Savages diverges from the conventional history of American abstract expressionism to unravel a more nuanced narrative infused with artistic camaraderie and mutual admiration. The exhibition reveals visual affinities between the three artists’ work, tracing the impact of Dubuffet’s art brut, the experimental spirit of Pollock’s technique, and Ossorio’s figurative language. As the focal point of the art world shifted from Europe to America, the exchange between two of its leading protagonists—Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet—and the less known but equally critical participant Alfonso Ossorio, helped bridge the ever-widening gap between the continents.
Alfonso Ossorio, who is virtually absent from standard art history texts, is the central figure in this story and the exhibition pays tribute to him. One of the most colorful figures in postwar American art, his altruism and generosity have obscured his own work as a painter. Heir to a vast Philippine sugar fortune, Ossorio lived for most of his creative life in East Hampton, N.Y. Born in the Philippines to a Spanish father and Chinese-Filipino mother, and educated in England and the United States, he started to exhibit regularly in New York in 1941. He was a multicultural artist who synthesized surrealism, abstract expressionism, and art brut—art by prisoners, the insane, and other so-called outsiders—with his Hispanic and Asian roots.
An artist and collector with a lively mind and entrepreneurial spirit, Ossorio was attracted early on to the work of both Jackson Pollock and Jean Dubuffet. He avidly collected their work and developed collegial friendships with both artists. Ossorio met Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner in 1949 through the gallerist Betty Parsons with whom Ossorio had exhibited since 1941. In 1950, at Pollock’s suggestion, Ossorio traveled to Paris to meet Dubuffet, an artist with whom he developed a deep kinship and rich correspondence. With Dubuffet’s help, Ossorio had several shows of his own work in Paris. From 1952 to 1961, he housed and exhibited at his East Hampton estate Dubuffet’s extensive collection of art brut. Ossorio amassed hundreds of works by Pollock and Dubuffet, including one of Pollock’s most celebrated paintings, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), which is featured in the exhibition.
The exhibition debunks the mythology of Jackson Pollock as a solitary genius. Contrary to popular belief, Pollock was keenly aware of what other artists were doing and was influenced by those he befriended and worked with throughout his abbreviated career. In 1950, Pollock worked in Ossorio’s studio while Ossorio was in the Philippines painting a mural for his family’s estate. During that time, Pollock received shipments of Ossorio’s wax and ink drawings from the Philippines and spent time studying them. It was at this time that Pollock abandoned his abstract designs and produced the Black Paintings, a series of figurative “drawings” created on unprimed cotton duck using sticks or hardened brushes as well as basting syringes and black industrial paint.
In recent years, The Phillips Collection has acquired a number of works by Ossorio that are showcased in the exhibition, including a seminal painting from the 1950s, The Family. In addition, the museum received a major work on paper, Reforming Figure (1950), and an assemblage, Excelsior (1960), part of the powerful series Ossorio called “Congregations.” Ossorio’s Five Brothers (1950), acquired by Duncan Phillips in 1951, and Pollock’s Collage and Oil (c. 1951), acquired in 1958, are also on view in the exhibition.
Thomas Hart Benton’s best-known work has been donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. America Today was Benton’s first major mural commission and the most ambitious he ever executed in New York City. It shows a sweeping panorama of American life, celebrating the promise of modern industry and technology and the accomplishments of working people in the boom years of the 1920s and has been donated to the museum by AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company.
Benton created the ten-panel mural cycle in 1930–31 as a commission for the third-floor boardroom of the New School for Social Research in New York City. Although Benton received no fee for the commission, America Today established him as his era’s leading American muralist. Its success provided the impetus for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) mural programs of the Great Depression.
America Today was acquired by AXA Equitable (then Equitable Life) in 1984, after efforts on the part of then-Mayor Edward I. Koch and others to keep it intact and in New York City. Two years later, after extensive cleaning and restoration, America Today was unveiled to critical acclaim in AXA Equitable’s new headquarters at 787 Seventh Avenue. When the company moved its corporate headquarters again in 1996, to 1290 Avenue of the Americas, America Today was put on display in the lobby. There it remained until January 2012, when the company was asked to remove it to make way for a renovation.
It was through the current exhibit (on view through January 6) at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art that I learned more about the Phillips Collection and Duncan Phillips himself. An astute collector, Phillips didn’t have the wealth to match Andrew Carnegie or Andrew Mellon, but never-the-less assembled one of the country’s great collections.
With just those three, Mellon, Carnegie and Phillips, plus Henry Clay Frick, it’s remarkable how much of the nation’s artistic heritage is tied to Pittsburgh (and the steel industry). Phillips collection is of course in Washington, D.C. where he moved in 1895. Duncan Phillips was the grandson of James H. Laughlin, a banker and co-founder of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. With repeated references to a home in Western Pennsylvania at an event at the Amon Carter, I asked Phillips Associate Curator for Research Susan Behrends Frank just where the family’s country home was.
The answer, Ebensburg, is a place I am well familiar with. It’s not far from a “cottage” that was home to B.F. Jones, the other partner in Jones and Laughlin. I knew about that home through recent news reports surrounding saving it from the wrecking ball. It sits next to a cottage once owned by Andrew Carnegie.
Phillips married painter Marjorie Acker in 1921. Though the Phillips is known for its collection of modern art, Marjorie was a painter in her own right and the museum holds many paintings she likely did of the countryside around Ebensburg. The house there, known as Ormsby Lodge and Carriage House, is still standing, as is another home owned by a family member.
Marjorie Phillips studied at the Art Students League from 1915 to 1918 with Kenneth Hayes Miller, Boardman Robinson, and Gifford Beal. She also served as director of The Phillips Collection from 1925 until her retirement in 1972.
Driving through Ebensburg, you can see why the landscape might be appealing as a retreat, and inspiring to an artist. (Although Mary Cassatt was said to have been frustrated by life in nearby Hollidaysburg). Located about an hour and a half from Pittsburgh, today the mountainous countryside still has its appeal. No tourist maps point you to the homes, but you can find them.
If you go:
Ormsby Lodge and Carriage House, Ebensburg -1889. Entrance 700 block W. Highland. An l8-room Eastlake Victorian summer house built for Duncan Phillips (the John Phillips House of the same family is at 413 W. Highland).
The cottages in Cresson are located on Cottage Street. The Google map vehicle hasn’t made it there yet.
Highlights of the project include a major architectural intervention by artist Sarah Oppenheimer; three new exhibitions; a new black box gallery for light, sound, and moving image works; two new interactive galleries; and the museum’s first mobile art guide for the collection.
The BMA is the first major museum to commission and acquire a site-specific installation by award-winning artist Sarah Oppenheimer. For this dramatic two-part work, the artist has cut through the floor, ceiling, and walls between the 2nd and 3rd floors of the contemporary wing and also through the wall between the contemporary and Cone wings to connect visitors and periods of art history using meticulously crafted mirrored and aluminum sculptural forms. Oppenheimer (American, born 1972) has exhibited at venues in the U.S. and Europe and is a visiting critic at Yale University.
“The November reopening of the contemporary wing is an important milestone for the BMA, as it is the first completed phase of the BMA’s renovation to provide a more dynamic and engaging experience for our audiences,” says Museum Director Doreen Bolger.
The Sixteen refreshed and revitalized galleries showcase masterworks by Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol alongside more than a dozen new acquisitions created by established and emerging artists working today.
Raised on a farm in Mesquite, during the 1930s Dozier became involved with the circle of regionalist artists and was a charter member of the Dallas Artists League, exhibited his work in the Dallas Allied Arts exhibitions, and from 1936 to 1938 taught at Dallas area schools.
Dozier also executed murals under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project including murals for post offices in Giddings (1937), Arlington (1941), and Fredericksburg (1942). National recognition came with exhibitions in San Francisco (1932); the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1933); and the First National Exhibition, Rockefeller Center, New York (1936).
Natural forms were always a source of inspiration, but in his latter career Dozier developed a semi-abstract style. A quote that provides some insight into his artistic theory, Dozier sais “you’ve got to start from where you are and hope to get to the universal.”
Today his works at least have national appeal. Dozier is represented in collections at the Dallas Museum or Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Denver Art Museum; the Newark Museum,the Wadsworth Atheneum i, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and elsewhere.
The estate sale features a number of paintings, sketches and prints by the artist. Original works start at about $25 and up. Some are signed, some are unsigned. Some are complete and some are simple sketches. Many have estate stamps. The sale continues today until 5 p.m. at 3220 Colgate Ave. The hours for Saturday are 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Source: Texas State Historical Association