February 29, 2008

Smokestack symbolism in Demuth's paintings at the Whitney

In the NYTimes, Ken Johnson writes that gay precisionist Charles Demuth might have felt marginalized by the mainly heterosexual art world. "If true, that interpretation casts the Lancaster paintings in another intriguing light. You could read the series as Demuth’s attempt to shuck off any stigma of effeminacy that might have accompanied his career as a watercolorist and flower specialist. Certainly the Lancaster paintings represent an ambition that his critics at the time would have favorably regarded as more virile. Having entertained that notion, you reconsider those unmistakably phallic water towers and smokestacks. What was Demuth thinking? Marcel Duchamp was his good friend; Freud’s ideas about the possible meanings of inanimate objects were in the air. Could Demuth have been unaware of the thrusting urgency in his pictures? I like to think he was having a bit of fun with the expectations of his day, that he said to himself: 'They want manly paintings. I’ll give them manly paintings!' What he couldn’t help doing was to make them beautiful." Read more.

Chimneys and Towers: Charles Demuth’s Late Paintings of Lancaster,” curated by Dr. Betsy Fahlman. Originally installed at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX. Traveling to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Through April 27.
Related Posts:
Precisionist Charles Demuth's chimney and tower paintings in Fort Worth
Precisionist Elsie Driggs retrospective at Michener Museum

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