MODERNISM IN FOCUS AT VANDERBILT
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – AMERICAN MODERNISM AT MID-CENTURY: THE WORK OF MORRIS DAVIDSON is the first comprehensive survey of a littleknown yet important twentieth century American artist, presenting new research into the significance of his life’s work and using it as a lens to view many iterations of abstraction practiced from the 1930s through the 1970s. The fourth in an annual collaboration with the Department of History of Art and the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery, this exhibition has been curated by Vanderbilt students who were enrolled in a related class taught by Kevin D. Murphy, Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Humanities and Chair of the Department of History of Art. The exhibition will be on view from April 28, 2017 through September 17, 2017. The Fine Arts Gallery is located in Cohen Memorial Hall, 1220 21st Avenue South, on the western edge of the Peabody College campus. Gallery hours from April 28 to August 22 are Tuesday through Friday 12-4 pm, Saturdays 1-5 pm, closed Sundays and Mondays. From August 23 through September 17 hours are Monday through Friday 11 am to 4 pm, Weekends 1-5 pm. Admission is free and open to the public.
Morris Davidson (1898–1979) was an abstract painter, teacher, and writer with expansive interests that covered a wide range of approaches, and indeed a tenacious commitment to, abstract painting. On the tension between making money through portraiture and the pursuit of more “serious” painting, the artist wrote in the 1930s, “I had to get back to Cubistic and semi-abstract works, but when my bell rang I could quickly put such painting in the extra room so that a portrait possibility would not be frightened off by the strange images of my experimental painting.” Seeking a resolution to this tension in later years, Davidson turned to teaching and writing for regular income. The freedom this allowed for his experiments in abstraction, creating works with greater attention to form, line, and color than subject, shows increasingly in his paintings of the following decades.
Always rooted in New York City, Davidson worked in a number of the hubs for artists of his era, from Asheville, North Carolina, to Rockport, Massachusetts on Cape Ann, and eventually to Provincetown, Massachusetts, a prominent Cape Cod art colony that attracted many noteworthy modernist painters. Davidson held leading roles in prominent arts organizations including the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors and the American Artists’ Congress. He was socially and artistically well-connected and exhibited his work widely. By 1960, the artist had had twenty one-man shows in New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Diego, and Los Angeles, in addition to group exhibitions including the first Whitney Biennial in 1933.
Research for this exhibition and its companion catalogue demonstrate that many of the paintings included were first exhibited at these shows during the artist’s lifetime. Student research on the paintings and catalogue essays by noted art historians, Margaret Laster and Melissa Renn, bring Davidson’s paintings and importance to the art circles of mid-century into today’s light. As Kevin D. Murphy states in the catalogue introduction, “That moment—from the interwar period through the 1960s—when Morris Davidson addressed the challenge of abstraction amid the appearance of many permutations of it in New York and Provincetown, is the focus of this [project].” The exhibition and catalogue together aim to construct a larger understanding of the many expressions of abstract painting in the United States at mid-century while expanding appreciation for this hitherto largely unrecognized artist.
The exhibition includes:
- Twenty-three paintings by Morris Davidson
- A wide range of approaches to abstraction, from objective and cubist to non-objective and expressionist
- A catalogue of the same title available for purchase
AMERICAN MODERNISM AT MID-CENTURY: THE WORK OF MORRIS DAVIDSON is the fourth in a partnership between the Department of History of Art and the Fine Arts Gallery resulting in a student-curated exhibition. This year, Professor Kevin D. Murphy, Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Humanities and Chair of the Department of History of Art, taught Exhibiting Historical Art — 20th Century Abstraction. The exhibition is curated by Aiden Layer ‘19, Nancy Lin ’18, Ryan Logie ’17, Cecilia March ’18, Kittredge Shamamian ’17, Elliot Taillon ’17, and Nina Vaswani ’17.
Support has been provided by the vice provost for academic and strategic affairs, the College of Arts and Science, the Department of History of Art, the Andrew W. Mellon Chair in the Humanities, the Ewers Gift for Fine Art, and the Rosenfeld/Davidson Family Collection.
For more information on visiting the gallery, see Vanderbilt.edu/gallery.