July 31, 2007

Making It New (again): The Art and Style of Sara & Gerald Murphy

“Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara & Gerald Murphy,” curated by Deborah Rothschild. Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Through Nov. 11. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, February 26 - May 4, 2008; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX, June 8, 2008 - September 14, 2008. See images.

Ken Johnson reports in the Boston Globe: "It wasn't for lack of appreciation that Gerald Murphy quit painting so soon after creating these works. His paintings were included in numerous Paris exhibitions, and they were praised by critics and other artists. It was, rather, a series of unrelated reversals of fortune that precipitated his retirement from painting and, eventually, his return to America with Sara and their near-complete withdrawal from the world of modern art....These events would be enough to explain Gerald's early retirement from painting. But there was something else, too, something in Gerald's psyche that warrants consideration. It seems that he was tormented for most of his life by what he called in private letters his 'defect,' a term then commonly used as a euphemism for homosexuality. To what extent he may have acted on his attraction to men is not known, but it is certain that he was ashamed of it, that he struggled to repress it in himself, and that he wanted to keep it secret."Read more.

Peter Schjeldahl writes in The New Yorker: "Gerald and Sara Murphy, moderately wealthy and irrepressibly sociable Jazz Age American expatriates in France, would be mainly deluxe gossip, filtered through their friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 'Tender Is the Night,' in which they figure as the charismatic Dick and Nicole Diver...(but) Gerald’s paintings are a gold standard that backs, with creative integrity, the paper money of the couple’s legend. He started by assisting on sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, with quick lessons from the painter Natalia Goncharova. His work consists of crisply hard-edged, cunningly composed, subtly colored, semi-abstract pictures of machinery, common objects, architectural fragments, and, in a disturbing final image, a wasp battening on a pear. Numerous influences are plain, but Gerald jumped ahead of his time with a laconic style that was prescient of big-scale abstraction and of Pop art." Read more.

Alexandra Anderson-Spivy on artnet: "Extensive private ephemera, family memorabilia and a touching video, featuring the surviving Murphy daughter Honoria, help to personalize the Murphy saga. The heavy documentation makes this show almost more of an excursion into cultural history than it is an art exhibition. The show and its catalogue also confront very personal aspects of the Murphys’ life, including Gerald’s previously under-explored struggle with a narcissistic sense of inner emptiness and his bisexual impulses." Read more.