Tuesday, May 22, 2012

John Marin: Dynamic Visions of City and Sea

Fom November 5, 2011, through January 8, 2012, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art presented the work of one of America’s foremost modernists, John Marin (1870–1953), in the special exhibition John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury. The exhibition covered the last 20 years of Marin’s career, from 1933 until his death in 1953. With more than 60 paintings, this was the first in-depth examination of Marin’s work in over 20 years.

Among the most widely acclaimed artists of the early 20th century, Marin was consistently praised by critics for his distinctive approach to modernism, the bold originality and the authentic “Americaness” of his work. Writing in 1932, The New Yorker literary critic Lewis Mumford considered Marin “the most significant and poignant and accomplished landscape painter of his generation in America.” Roughly 20 years later, at the time of Marin’s memorial exhibition held in New York in 1954, the critic Robert Rosenblum astutely noted, “He stands in full center of the major currents of American Art … he parallels, even prophesies, abstract-expressionist trends.”

John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury examines the artist’s modernist vision as it developed during the last decades of his life. For Marin, the 20-year span between 1933 and 1953, a period bracketed by the Great Depression and the decade following World War II, was a time to position his legacy within the grand narrative of art and to reaffirm the validity of American avant-garde, the ambitious, home-grown experiment upon which he had staked his more than 50-year career.

Movement: Sea, Ultramarine and Green; Sky, Cerulean and Grey

“This exhibition provides fresh insight into Marin’s late works, allowing visitors to appreciate how the abstract properties that had always been a feature of his art underwent a major transformation in the last 20 years of his life,” says Debra Bricker Balken, curator of the exhibition and author of the accompanying catalogue. “During this final period, the artist’s longstanding signature motifs, Manhattan and Maine, became deeply intertwined as he uncovered and fused their corresponding structures, mining each locale for metaphorical associations.”

Beginning in 1914, Marin began spending summers in Maine and drew inspiration from the state’s varied geography—forested mountains, picturesque towns, misty harbors and rolling seas. In 1933, he discovered Cape Split, a remote and sparsely settled northern peninsula in Pleasant Bay; and in 1934, he began living part of each year there in a house “so close to the water I almost feel at times that I am on a boat,” he said. This new location proved hugely liberating and revelatory for the artist. Immersed within “the spirit of the Cape,” even in winter while residing at his home in Cliffside, New Jersey, Marin confronted the forces of nature as never before.

Movement in White, Umber, and Cobalt Green, 1950

As the exhibition unfolds, Marin’s late career is revealed as a masterful phase of experimentation, one that encompassed a renewed enthusiasm for painting in oil and a more rugged handling of watercolor.

“Marin’s talent, prodigious memory and his unfettered enthusiasm for both Cape Split and the landscape near his New Jersey home inspired him to produce an innovative synthesis of watercolor and oil painting,” says Balken. “Working vigorously, he explored the symbiotic relationship between the two mediums, learning to accentuate the tactile possibilities of each and to translate the fluidity and directness of watercolor to the medium of oil and, conversely, the depth and solidarity of oil to the medium of watercolor without sacrificing its appealing luminosity.”

John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury was co-organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, and the Portland Museum of Art, Portland, Maine, and brought together important loans from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as from many other institutions and private collections.

Movement in Red, 1946

The accompanying catalogue, written by Balken and produced by Yale University Press, provides insight into Marin’s work from this period within the context of contemporary critical discourse. A hardcover and softcover catalogue will be on sale in the Museum Store + Café.