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‘American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe’ at New York’s Whitney

— December 2012

Associated media

Charles Demuth (1883–1935), My Egypt, 1927. Oil on fiberboard, 35 3/4 × 30 in. (90.8 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.172

Eighteen early to mid-century American artists who forged distinctly modern styles are the subjects of ‘American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe’, which opened on 22  December at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Drawing from the Whitney’s permanent collection, the year-long show features iconic as well as lesser known works by Oscar Bluemner, Charles Burchfield, Paul Cadmus, Alexander Calder, Joseph Cornell, Ralston Crawford, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Gaston Lachaise, Jacob Lawrence, John Marin, Reginald Marsh, Elie Nadelman, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Joseph Stella.

Curator Barbara Haskell has organized the Museum’s holdings of each of these artists’ work into small-scale retrospectives. Many of the works included will be on view for the first time in years; others, such as Hopper’s A Woman in the Sun, Calder’s Circus, Jacob Lawrence’s War Series, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Summer Days, are cornerstones of the Whitney’s collection. The show will run for a year in the Museum’s fifth-floor Leonard & Evelyn Lauder Galleries and both the Sondra Gilman Gallery and Howard & Jean Lipman Gallery on the fifth-floor mezzanine. To showcase the breadth and depth of the Museum’s impressive modern art collection, a rotation will occur in May 2013 in order that other artists’ works can be installed.

In the late 19th century artistic innovation was largely driven by European art. For aspiring young painters and sculptors in America, travelling to Europe and assimilating European styles was considered integral to becoming a modern artist. By the turn of the 20th century, with America’s emergence as an international power, the nation’s artists began to reassess their earlier dependence on Europe in favour of creating independent styles, inspired by American subjects and forms of expression.

Two clear movements dominated art in the first half of the 20th century: realism and modernism.

Despite their seemingly antithetical styles and subject matter, the two groups shared a determination to portray their intense connection to American subjects, Haskell explains. Together, they charted a new direction in American art and, in the process, redefined the relationship between art and modern life.

By featuring realists, such as Hopper and Burchfield, alongside modernists, such as Bluemner and Stella, ‘American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe’ represents the vitality and diversity of early 20th-century American art. The Whitney has a long and proud history of supporting this work, as evidenced by the depth of its holdings of the 18 artists in this exhibition.

For more details please visit the Whitney's website

New building for the Whitney

The Whitney looks to its future in a new building in 2015, and this show reaffirms its commitment to the great artists at the core of its collection.

The new building, designed by Renzo Piano, is in downtown Manhattan. Located at the corner of Gansevoort and Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District, at the southern entrance to the High Line, the new building, which has generated immense momentum and support, will enable the Whitney to greatly increase the size and scope of its exhibition and programming space. Ground was broken on the new building in May 2011, and it is projected to open to the public in 2015.

Exhibition support

Continuous support for the permanent collection and major support for ‘American Legends: From Calder to O'Keeffe’ is provided by Bank of America.

Additional support for ‘American Legends’ is provided by Susan R. Malloy, The Gage Fund, and Lynn G. Straus.

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