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Accompanying the only American showing of an exhibition devoted to the painter Stuart Davis (1892-1964) at Washington's National Museum of American Art during the summer of 1998, this publication offers a fresh look at the quintessential American painter of the early modern period. An aficionado of jazz who experimented with improvisational composition, Davis created, in the 1920s and 1930s, a spirited American variant of Picasso's and Braque's synthetic cubism and anticipated key elements of pop art. Essayists include leading American scholars of Davis's work and jazz critic Ben Sidran.
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The editor of this startling book claims that Stuart Davis made the "first truly original American avant-garde painting." Niggling arguments aside, it finally gives Davis his due, which has always been difficult. His most familiar paintings are so flatly poster-like that they prefigure many similarly cool movements, from conceptual to pop art, but without the intellectual or humorous trappings of the latter. The early works reproduced here show a sensitive side of Davis. In a 1912 self-portrait, for example, the artist looks troubled and tubercular, glancing over his shoulder at a distant female figure. The colors are wintry, the paint thickly applied. Later, when Davis discovers modernism, it is as if he embraces the logic of abstraction as an antidote to the deeper emotions of his youth. This comprehensive volume gives readers enough information to decide for themselves. --Margaret Moorman
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