December 28, 2007

Carousing with the Ashcan School boys

Life’s Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists’ Brush With Leisure, 1895-1925,” curated by James W. Tottis. New-York Historical Society, New York, NY. Through Feb. 10. Artists include Robert Henri, John Sloan, William Glackens, Everett Shinn, George Luks, George Bellows, Jerome Myers, Guy Pene du Bois, Walt Kuhn, Edward Hopper, and Rockwell Kent.

John Sloan’s New York,” Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY. Through Feb. 24.

The artists of the Ashcan School liked to have fun. They dined in fancy restaurants, hung out at McSorley’s men's tavern, went to the theater, the circus, and trips to Coney Island. Teddy Roosevelt was their hero. In the NYTimes, Ken Johnson reports that these two exhibitions of Ashcan art depict the old New York they loved. "In 1916 a staff member of the socialist magazine The Masses objected to the insufficiently high-minded 'pictures of ashcans and girls hitching up their skirts on Horatio Street' by Sloan, George Bellows and others of the Henri circle that illustrated the magazine. Elevated or not, the Ashcan painters were drawn to what they saw as the vitality of the lower classes. Bellows’s 1907 painting 'Forty-two Kids,' in which a gang of mostly naked boys swims off a decaying Hudson River pier, is not an indictment of poverty but an anti-academic celebration of unsupervised freedom, spontaneity and play. Favoring a brushy, gestural application inspired by the paintings of Hals, Velázquez and Manet, the Ashcan artists were action painters who mirrored the flux of reality with the flux of their brushwork, and, sometimes, by intensifying light and color. See, for example, Shinn’s extraordinarily luminous paintings of theatrical productions....

"In 1913 disaster struck the Ashcan School in the form of the Armory Show, which, by introducing European avant-gardists like Picasso, Matisse and Duchamp to America, caused the near-total eclipse of native realism.
If Ashcan painting looks like a dead end today, we should not forget that it gave birth to two indisputably great American painters: Edward Hopper and Stuart Davis. It might also be said that the Ashcan spirit returned in Abstract Expressionism, a movement that favored visceral action over aesthetic refinement. Willem de Kooning’s famous line — 'I always seem to be wrapped in the melodrama of vulgarity' — could have been the Ashcan motto."Read more.

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