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Modern Masters on display at Reynolda House

by Jeff Sykes

In 1939 the artist Georgia O’Keeffe accepted a commission from what would become the Dole Pineapple Co. to go to Hawaii and produce works suitable for future marketing campaigns. Given the break from her arid New Mexico home, O’Keeffe, along with lifelong friend Ansel Adams, blossomed in the rich flora of the fiftieth state.

Four of those works, along with a varied collection of stunning paintings, are on display at Reynolda House in Winston-Salem through May 4. American Moderns, 1910- 1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell covers a wide range of motifs, all conveying the sense of transition that society endured during that time period. The collection, organized by the Brooklyn Museum, includes works by O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Arthur Dove, Grandma Moses, Joseph Stella, Elie Nadelman and Norman Rockwell.

Displayed in the Babcock Wing, the exhibit greets the viewer with a cubist display, along with the abstract vision of Staunton Macdonald Wright’s Synchromy No. 3. Completed in 1917, the large painting contains a vast array of rich colors like Neapolitan ice cream. Swirls of pastel shapes with hard angles and multiple focal points convey the fractured sense of tradition artist of the period sought to express.

But it is Max Weber’s cubist work The Visit that dominates the first section of the exhibit. Held in a rustic frame, the stunning domestic scene depicts a Jewish courtship or perhaps a Sabbath gathering. According to the Brooklyn Museum, Weber began painting nostalgic Jewish scenes in 1918 in response to the pogroms happening across Eastern Europe.

Another section of the exhibit is “The Still Life Revisited” in which traditional subject matter is reinterpreted via the modernist aesthetic of simplified, streamlined forms. The Modernists sought new ways to communicate with contemporary audiences, taking their cues from avant-garde European artists, as well as non-western and folk artists. A true combination of these elements finds expression in Joseph Stella’s vibrant work The Virgin, completed in 1926. The colorful, folkish work shows a traditional Madonna subject surrounded by a garland of fruits and flowers, said to represent both the fertility of the model and the creativity of the artist.

This section of the exhibit is anchored by two of O’Keeffe’s works placed next to a large painting by Augustus Vincent Tack. The vibrant yellow and stunning realism of the O’Keeffe work amplifies the mystical interpretation of a western canyon that Tack created in 1931. Canyon is a muted grayish blue, with layered textures whose heavy brush strokes are visible up close, yet resembles soft colored children’s chalk from a distance.

Works by NC Wyeth and a Rockwell illustration anchor the final section of the exhibit, mixed in with more traditional expressions of urban daily life.

In conjunction with the visiting exhibit, Reynolda House has collected its own modernist holdings in the Northeast Bedroom of the main house. Here, O’Keeffe and Tack again counteract one another along with Weber’s The Dancers from 1948.

A full range of Modernism is contained in this worldclass exhibit, leaving the viewer grounded in the path that would soon lead to increasingly abstract expressionism and pop art. !

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American Moderns, 1910-1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell runs at Reynolda House Museum of American Art at 2250 Reynolda Road through May 4. For more information visit reynoldahouse.org or call 888.663.1149.

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