Two Shows Explore the Origin and the Influence of Painter Marsden Hartley
The lasting legacy of modernist avant-garde artist Marsden Hartley runs deeply through two exhibitions currently on view at Driscoll Babcock Galleries in New York. “Art is Long, Life is Short: Marsden Hartley and Charles Kuntz in Aix-en-Provence” and “The Earth is All I Know of Wonder: Contemporary Responses to Hartley” run concurrently in two spaces at the Chelsea gallery, each one exploring the impact that the work of the prolific artist had on painters of different generations.
Hartley’s work, which cycled through a range of styles and techniques after his career was launched by photographer and dealer Alfred Stieglitz in 1909, always settled on aesthetic dictums rather than romantic notions. “I am interested then only in the problem of painting, of how to make a better painting according to certain laws that are inherent in the making of a good picture and not at all in private extraversions or introversions of specific individuals,” he explained in his 1928 essay “Art and the Personal Life.”
This philosophy led to the creation of investigative paintings that were strongly reactive to the visual aspects of the real world, an ethos echoed in the works of his forebears in “Contemporary Responses to Hartley.” The exhibition focuses on modern visions of the Hartley’s most-repeated subjects, landscapes and still lifes, with a group of artists that are inspired by Harley’s inventive style of depiction. Works such as Jennifer Coates’s Houseplant (2014) and Katherine Bradford’s Liner, Cloud, Berg (2014) clearly evolve from Hartley’s audacious paintings filled with bright color and bold form.
“Art is Long, Life is Short: Marsden Hartley and Charles Kuntz in Aix-en-Provence,” presented in conjunction with the Greenville County Museum of Art in South Carolina, addresses the impact of the historical friendship between the two titular artists in the late 1920s, when both lived in the French city of Aix-en-Provence. Kuntz, whose work has never been exhibited before, had convinced Hartley to move the hometown of their mutual hero Paul Cézanne, where both artists produced vibrant and evocative works, inspired by a landscape and collaborative lifestyle in which they both thrived until Kuntz’s untimely death by a motorcycle accident in 1928.
Dual depictions of the local Mont Sainte-Victoire (a favorite of Cézanne) cast a clear light onto the ways in which the work of each artist influenced that of his friend; from shared subject to the semi-abstract techniques strongly indebted to both cubism and impressionism, the works hint at a symbiotic and mutually beneficial collaboration in work and life.
“The Earth is All I Know of Wonder: Contemporary Responses to Hartley” is on view at Driscoll Babcock Galleries, New York, Jan. 15–Feb. 21, 2015; “Art is Long, Life is Short: Marsden Hartley and Charles Kuntz in Aix-en-Provence” is on view Jan. 15–March 7, 2015.