Stuart Davis (1892–1964) is one of the preeminent figures of American modernism. With a long career that stretched from the early twentieth century well into the postwar era, he brought a distinctively American accent to international modernism. Faced with the choice between realism and pure abstraction early in his career, Davis invented a vocabulary that harnessed the grammar of abstraction to the speed and simultaneity of modern America. By merging the bold, hard-edged style of advertising with the conventions of European avant-garde painting, he created an art endowed with the vitality and dynamic rhythms that he saw as uniquely modern and American. In the process, he achieved a rare synthesis: an art that is resolutely abstract, yet at the same time exudes the spirit of popular culture.
The exhibition is unusual in its focus on Davis’s mature career and on his working method of using preexisting motifs as springboards for new compositions. From 1939 on, Davis rarely painted a work that did not make reference, however hidden, to one or more of his earlier compositions. Such “appropriation” is a distinctive aspect of his mature art. This presentation will be the first major exhibition to consistently hang Davis’s later works side by side with the earlier ones that inspired them. With approximately one hundred works, from his paintings of consumer products in the early 1920s to the work left on his easel at his death in 1964, the exhibition will highlight Davis’s unique ability to transform the chaos of everyday life into a structured yet spontaneous order that communicates the wonder and joy that can be derived from the color and spatial relationships of everyday things.
Stuart Davis: In Full Swing is co-organized by Barbara Haskell, Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Harry Cooper, Curator and Head of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, with Sarah Humphreville, Curatorial Assistant, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.