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Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presents Stuart Davis: In Full Swing


Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presents the exhibition, Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, on view September 16, 2017, through January 1, 2018. Admission to Stuart Davis: In Full Swing is $8 for adults or $12 combined with Chihuly: In the Forest. There is no cost for museum members and youth ages 18 and under.

Stuart Davis: In Full Swing is the first major exhibition in 20 years dedicated to Davis (1892–1964), a key figure in the development of American modern art. The exhibition showcases 86 works that reveal the dynamic, original style of this important American painter.  Stuart Davis: In Full Swing was co-organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Crystal Bridges is the final venue for this exhibition. Previous venues include: Whitney Museum of American Art: June 10 – September 25, 2016; National Gallery of Art: November 20, 2016 – March 5, 2017; and the de Young Museum: April 1 – August 6, 2017.

Born in Philadelphia, Davis began as an illustrator of urban life around New York.  He was heavily influenced by European Modernists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Fernand Léger and became one of the first American artists to bring the lessons of French avant-garde art into American painting. Davis’s art was also informed by his love of jazz, advertising imagery, and everyday city life, and it blurred the distinctions between high and low art, and between realism and abstraction.

Davis’s first art teacher, Robert Henri, who is represented in Crystal Bridges permanent collection, hooked Davis on painting everyday American urban life and embracing all its aspects; while the poetry of Walt Whitman inspired Davis’s emotional impulse to capture unique American experiences. He created lively, innovative paintings marked by their bold use of colors, shapes, lines, symbols, and words. For Davis, his paintings were an expression of what he called the “American Scene,” and he believed abstract art could convey the energy, tension, and experience of American life in a rapidly changing world.

“Crystal Bridges’ visitors may be familiar with Stuart Davis, with five works from our permanent collection included in the exhibition,” said Rod Bigelow, Crystal Bridges Executive Director and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. “We’re eager to introduce Davis to new visitors as well as share a deeper presentation of his long and complex career, unique practices, influences, and contributions to American culture.”

Beginning with a 1912 self-portrait, Stuart Davis: In Full Swing charts the artist’s development over five decades of art making. The exhibition opens with an introductory section featuring an overview of Davis’s career, then documents the evolution of his art by decade, culminating in his final, unfinished canvas, titled Fin (1962-64).

 “Davis was a pivotal figure in American modern art, whose work is remarkable for its breadth and inventiveness,” said Margi Conrads, Crystal Bridges Director of Curatorial Affairs. “Living from the horse and buggy era to the space race, Davis’s art was informed by experiencing most of the significant events of the twentieth century. Davis’s expansive vision and unique approach, informed by his enthusiasm for jazz, helped define American art for his generation and beyond.”

Throughout the exhibition, the impact of Davis’s great passion for jazz is evident. A lifelong enthusiast, Davis stated that jazz was the “great American art expression,” with “the same quality of art that [he] found in the best modern painting.” This is especially evident in his paintings after 1940 when he frequently reworked earlier compositions in a way similar to jazz’s concept of variations on a theme, and similarly conveys a uniquely modern sense of dynamism and vibrancy. The structure, rhythm, riffs and repetitions in Davis’s painting derive from his tremendous love of American jazz, especially piano music.  The exhibition highlights the jazz rhythms in Davis’s works with the soft sounds of jazz music played in the galleries throughout the run of the exhibition.  The exhibition will also be accompanied by a full roster of jazz programs with highlights including:

  • September 21: Distinguished Speaker Series>>Jason Moran: the Artistic Director of Jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will be speaking and performing.  More info here.
  • September 28, October 5, & October 12: Film Series >> Hollywood Jazz: Jazz Sing is a three-part series beginning with The Jazz Singer (1927), The Benny Goodman Story (1956), and Lady Sings the Blues (1972). More info here.
  • December 1: Van Cliburn Concert Series>>Masters of Jazz will feature Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of the renowned New Orleans-based family of musicians, and 14-year-old prodigy Joey Alexander. More info here.

In addition, the museum offers opportunities, resources, and exhibition-inspired programs designed to provide access to enriching art experiences:

  • In Full Swing music will be playing in the galleries and available in the museum store for purchase. The CD features music by jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Earl “Fatha” Hines.
  • Fully illustrated exhibition catalog will be available in the museum store for purchase. The catalog was published by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery of Art, and Prestel Publishing.
  • Three digital gallery interactives demonstrate Davis’s unusual practice of transforming elements in earlier compositions by infusing them with new colors, shapes, words, and symbols to create a vibrant new painting.
  • A 16-minute film, narrated by actor John Lithgow, will be shown in a special theater space located halfway through the exhibition.
  • A 1950s-inspired seating area, designed by local interior designer Chris Goddard, will allow visitors to relax, listen to jazz, and look through the exhibition catalog.
  • The gallery’s reflection area will serve as an engagement space, inviting visitors to create their own abstract still life drawings, color in their own version of a Davis painting, and contribute to a community mural transforming a familiar landscape into an abstract work of art.
  • An Opening Exhibition Lecture with Harry Cooper, Senior Curator of Modern Art at the National Gallery of Art, is scheduled for September 15. Cooper will explore Davis’s five-decade artistic journey, from his Cubist still lifes of the 1920s to his development of an entirely original abstract language that merged the aesthetics of advertising and jazz with American-inspired subject matter and a dazzling visual reinvention of his earlier work. This event is free, but requires a ticket.
  • The museum restaurant, Eleven, will offer a Stuart Davis specialty drink and tasting menu available through November.
  • Special tours through Stuart Davis: In Full Swing are planned for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 1:00 p.m. for the run of the exhibition. School tours will take place in the exhibition along with adult tours.

Major support is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Terra Foundation for American Art. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. This exhibition is sponsored at Crystal Bridges by James Dyke and Helen Porter.

To learn more about the exhibition, visit the Crystal Bridges website. For a complete list of upcoming exhibition programs, visit here. For news updates, follow Crystal Bridges on the Blog, Facebook or Twitter #CBStuartDavis.