Smith writes: "By chance 'Legends' coincides with the Museum of Modern Art’s sweeping survey 'Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,' which traces the development of a largely geometric form of abstraction, mostly by European and Russian artists who often worked in closely related styles. In comparison the Whitney’s display might almost have been subtitled 'Inventing American Modernism, One Sensibility at a Time.' The artists here impress you as talented loners working toward diverse and much messier notions of modernity. To be sure, they take tips from European styles, but they also free themselves from such influences with highly personal responses to the sights and subjects specific to this country — the rawness of its landscapes, the tawdriness of its cities, as well as its folk art, social mores and racism. Sometimes they are working toward abstraction, sometimes not."
In addition to a slideshow of works from the exhibition, Gopnik posts: "At this moment we are officially in the middle of yet another abstract-art revival, according to dealers and certain writers. But the urgency that once came with abstraction has clearly disappeared. The nonfiguration that’s attempted today inevitably seems like a rehashing of the abstraction of old, or a footnote to it and ironic poke at it, or some kind of retro revisitation, akin to the Mad Men suits on today’s businessmen. It’s almost impossible to see today’s abstraction as mattering much for tomorrow’s art..."
He continues: "But it could be that to note the passing of abstraction as a form of current art is to misunderstand what mattered most about the abstract revolution in the first place: it may have been less about the 'abstract' than about 'revolution.' Its impact didn’t depend so much on the gorgeous works of art it led to as on the fact of leaving so much behind. Abstraction was the model, the test case, for art as innovation, so that almost all the radical art that came later had its roots in that moment in 1912. Readymades and monochromes, text-based art and performance, happenings and purely conceptual gestures, all depend on abstraction’s pioneering rejections of business-as-usual art. 'Abstraction unsettles more than just the fact of depiction,'says [exhibition curator Leah] Dickerman-it establishes the act of unsettling as the sign of modern thought."
Wilkin notes the importance of John Graham to the American painters: "Graham was always in the middle of it… He's the glue." She also comments on how each artist was important to the others' development: "That kind of cross-fertilization is what fascinates us… It's not just that they're looking at European modernism, that's how these artists are always discussed, in relation to what was going on in Paris. Of course they're paying attention to that, but they're also looking at each other's interpretations of European modernism and learning from each other."
Lewis writes that exhibition "offers work from the final 20 years of Marin's life – a masculine vision of city, sea, and landscape and a profile of an artist who dabbled in and experimented with cubism and abstraction but never let an influence turn him into a follower."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.