Sheldon Museum of Art


Date of this Version



Resource/Reservoir, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Volume 1 Number 4, 1986


All images are copyright by the original artists. Publication copyright 1986 The Regents of the University of Nebraska


Precisionism and Regionalism were the dominant styles of the late Twenties and early Thirties; the isolationist and chauvinistic attitudes which encouraged conservative imagery of the American Scene generated scorn for Modernist art. Sounding very like the critics who derided the Armory Show of 1913, Thomas Craven (for example), writing in the New York American in 1936 about A. E. Gallatin's purchase of Picasso's Three Musicians for his Museum of Living Art, set a standard for vituperation:

Rallying around a fallen idol, the vested interests, collectors, nuts and professional esthetes have joined hands in a last desperate campaign to restore the tarnished majesty of Picasso, a king without a kingdom, a ruler with few loyal syncophants and courtiers but with few subjects in the ranks of genuine artists...

Such "courtiers ," Craven went on to claim, were "exponents of Bohemian infantilism" who wrote "volumes of pseudo-philosophic drivel on the advantages of cubes and cones. "

In the same month- November- that Craven was composing these views, the avant garde in New York was organizing itself, meeting to discuss the formation of a school and forum which would allow them to develop and discuss their artistic aims. 2 The artists were divided among themselves. One group, led by such artists as Arshile Gorky and Willem deKooning, were deeply influenced by Surrealism-however indebted they were to the Cubist tradition. The other was strongly influenced by the ideas and the art of the De Stijl group, principally Mondrian, as well as the Constructivists and Suprematists. The profound separation between the emerging traditions of Surrealism and geometric abstraction precluded the formation of a single curriculum. There were no serious obstacles to a joint exhibition, however, and several additional meetings generated , in April of 1937, the first American Abstract Artists exhibition. Not every artist joined the AAA.-Davis and Gorky refused to participate, for example-but the size of the exhibition grew steadily. By 1946, in a Whitney Museum exhibition catalogue, Lloyd Goodrich could accurately observe that "about the middle 1930's began a new trend toward abstraction, particularly among the younger artists, until today it is one of the dominant tendencies in our art. "