MFA Examines Modern Art With Five New Installations

Frida Kahlo, Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia) (detail), 1928. Oil on canvas. Image: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia) by Frida Kahlo (detail), 1928. The oil on canvas is one of the artworks examining  modern art history at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

REVIEW: Five New Installations at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Examine Modern Art History and Contributions of Artists


BOSTON— A series of new installations examining what it meant to be in the vanguard of Modern art in the 20th century is one of the major attractions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) this July. With an overarching  title of  Making Modern in the 20th century, each installation represents a moment—from Mexico City to New York to Boston—that illustrates the evolution of Modern art in North America.

On display are works  by  Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Max Beckmann , Karl Zerbe Pablo Picasso and several other important modern artists of the 20th century. At the core of the  installations is the history of  modern art and  modern artists in the Americas who drew influences from different sources, including contemporaries, teachers, rivals, and friends. These influences inspired 20th-century painters who took their artistic practice in dramatic new directions.

Located  on the third floor of the Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), the installations feature  new acquisitions, rarely seen loans, and masterpieces from the MFA’s collection. The installations provide a fresh perspective on  Modern artists working in the 20th century.

Five New Installations Examining Modern Art History and Artists:

Kahlo and Her Circle : A close look at Frida Kahlo’s Dos Mujeres, and her circle of family and friends.

Imogen Cunningham, Frida Kahlo Rivera, Painter and Wife of Diego Rivera (detail), 1931. Photograph, gelatin silver print. The Lane Collection. Image: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One of the installations is  Kahlo and Her Circle in the Robert and Jane Burke Gallery. Included in the show are artworks of Frida Kahlo and her circle of family and friends in Mexico City. Based on the Museum of Fine Art in Boston’s recently acquired and newly conserved Dos Mujeres (1928) by Kahlo, the installation brings an important new context to Kahlo’s artistic career. Adding meaning to the art installation are photographs by Tina Modotti, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. Cunningham’s  black and white portrait photograph of  Kahlo is very revealing of the artist as a stylish cultural icon. The show also includes lithographs by Diego Rivera, and recently acquired archival material related to the artist, including the wedding portrait of Kahlo and Rivera by Victor Reyes. The images from recently acquired archival material related to the artist bring new understanding to the life of the artist.

Pollock/Picasso : The Artistic Dialogue of Two Titans of Modern Art

Jackson Pollock, Number 10, 1949 (detail), 1949. Alkyd (synthetic paint) and oil on canvas mounted on panel. © 2011 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The contrasts between two titans of Modern art is at the center of Pollock/Picasso in the Saundra B. and William H. Lane Galleries.  Besides  showing the stylistic difference between Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso, the side-by-side groupings of paintings, sculpture, works on paper  and films of the artist at work investigates Pollock’s engagement with Picasso. More importantly, Pollock/Picasso reveals how Pollock shifted away from representation into abstraction during the 1930s and ’40s. Although Pollock had experienced Picasso’s artworks in museums, galleries and publications, he shifted his creative direction to embrace abstraction. The mid-century shift—both geographic (Paris to New York)  that laid the foundation for Abstract Expressionism in the US is at the core of Pollock/Picasso. Although Picasso pushed the boundaries of representation, Pollock took it in a new direction that influenced a generation of  artists.

The Lane Collection: Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Deer’s Skull with Pedernal, 1936. Oil on canvas. ©Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Artworks by Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley and Stuart Davis occupy the central gallery at the MFA in an exhibition titled The Lane Collection: O’Keeffe, Sheeler, Dove. The five American artists are from photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s circle. They showed their artworks in Alfred Stieglitz’s and Edith Halpert’s New York City galleries.  The artists who were close friends  influenced and inspired each other. There works were actively collected by William H. Lane and his wife Saundra, which is where the works for this installation emanated. While the works by the artists are grouped separately to reveal their individual artistic identity, they also show their influences. The installation  also presents  the voice and contributions of the artists to Modern art.

Beckmann in America:  Max Beckmann and the  Boston Expressionists

Max Beckmann, Perry T. Rathbone (detail), 1948. Oil on canvas. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

At the height of the persecution of artists in Germany during Hitler’s reign of terror, Max Beckmann and Karl Zerbe fled Europe. The German-born artists immigrated to the US and had a lasting impact on American artists especially those working in Boston. Beckmann in America located in the Saundra B. and William H. Lane Galleries highlights the influence of Max Beckmann and Karl Zerbe on Boston Expressionists . The gallery explores the work of both artists, as well as their students Hyman Bloom and Jack Levine, who established Boston Expressionism as a major style of painting at mid century. Individually, each artist went on to articulate their own personal responses to the bold subjects and broad technique of the German Expressionists. Beckmann, Zerbe and their students, including David Aaronson went on to establish the Fine Art Department at Boston University.

Hofmann and the Next Generation of Abstract Artists

Hans Hofmann, Twilight (detail), 1957. Oil on plywood. © 2011 Renate, Hans & Maria Hofmann Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Hans Hofmann (American, born in Germany), an abstract expressionist and prominent teacher is a phenomenon in modern art history. Besides training hundreds of students in his distinctive technique, he also inspired his peers and a new generation to develop their own artistic voice.  His studios in New York and Provincetown were beehive of activities and filled with students desperate to learn.  Hofmann and the Next Generation in the Melvin Blake and Frank Purnell Gallery illustrates the impact of pedagogy on mid-century abstract artists. The gallery features works by Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, David Smith and Peter Voulkos.  Many of the paintings  reflect  their deep influence on abstract art and technique.   Sculptures by David Smith and Peter Voulkos also show Hofmann’s deep influence on the next generation of abstract artists.

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