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Transatlantic Avant-Garde:
American Artists in Paris, 1918-1939

Tacoma Art Museum
Tacoma WA Thru Mar 28, 2004

Fernand Léger – Typographer, Final State
Fernand Léger, Typographer, Final State (1919) oil on canvas, [Tacoma Art Museum, WA thru Mar 28]

Alexander Calder – Mobile
Alexander Calder, Mobile, (c. 1931) metal and painted wood, [Tacoma Art Museum, WA thru Mar 28] Private collection, Courtesy of the Calder Foundation and the Estate of Alexander Calder, © 2003 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris

The Tacoma Art Museum is currently hosting an unusual exhibit from the Musée d’art Américain Giverny. The exhibit focuses on artists who worked in Paris between World War I and World War II, when Paris was considered the centre of the art world.

Ironically, many of the American artists who travelled to Paris in search of the “avant-garde” found Parisians fascinated with such aspects of their own culture as American jazz music, billboard advertising and skyscrapers. Consequently, they developed a new confidence in themselves, their art, and their American identity in Paris. The most forward-thinking American artists included Alexander Calder, Stuart Davis, Charles Demuth and Man Ray. Characteristic attributes of their work were simplification of form, geometric abstraction and surrealism.

Man Ray – André Breton
Man Ray, André Breton, (c. 1921-1922) Modern print, [Tacoma Art Museum, WA thru Mar 28] Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain de Bourgogne, Dijon, France © Man Ray Trust/ARS, New York 2003

Ismu Noguchi – Positional Shape
Ismu Noguchi, Positional Shape, (c. 1928) brass, [Tacoma Art Museum, WA thru Mar 28] Courtesy of The Isamu Noguchi Foundation, Long Island City, N.Y.

Alexander Calder’s mobile sculptures and drawings echoed the style of work being done by the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, who was also living in Paris at this time. Stuart Davis used bold blocks of patchwork colour and pattern similar to Cubism to depict everyday street scenes of Paris. Charles Demuth’s Figure 5 in Gold was to become an icon of Americanism.

The photographs of Man Ray are well represented in this exhibit. Included are portraits of such artists and writers as Gertrude Stein who made up the Paris avant garde scene, and samples of his more Surrealist experimentations with solarization, in prints he called “Rayograms”. The polished brass forms of Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, like Positional Shape and Globular, are spare yet organic in their abstraction, with similar surrealist features. The exhibition also features the work of Paris-based European artists. Most notable are Marcel Duchamp and Fernand Léger.

Allyn Cantor

 Wed, Feb 4, 2004