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Indepth Arts News:

"Placing Avery"
2005-07-10 until 2005-09-18
Neuberger Museum of Art
Purchase, NY, USA

Placing Avery, on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art from July 10 through September 18, 2005, groups work by Milton Avery with artists he admired, artists he knew and artists he influenced. The exhibition features twelve paintings and prints by Avery, and twenty-two paintings, prints and drawings by other artists, all drawn from the permanent collection of the Neuberger Museum of Art. With these works as the setting, Placing Avery endeavors to depict how the work of established masters took hold in Avery’s work, and how a considerable number of younger painters chose to translate their vision on the strength of his example. The exhibition is the last of a series that celebrates the Neuberger Museum’s 30th Anniversary year and its history of collecting historically significant artwork.

Milton Avery had a strong, “Connecticut Yankee” work ethic. He painted for 50 years, some times spending all day for weeks at a time at his easel, and sometimes creating as many as five or six paintings or studies in one day.  He’s been quoted as saying, “Why talk when you can paint?” He loved to travel as much as he loved to paint, and his travels instilled in him a love of nature, natural settings, and color, which he invested in his landscapes and seascapes. Avery also painted familiar, intimate moments of his family and friends, his home and his studio.

Avery’s sensibility was rooted in the combination of American regionalism and European and American impressionism. Beginning in the 1920s as a relatively traditional painter, Avery’s style changed and evolved, ultimately taking him to the brink of abstraction. Although he was influenced by many illustrious forebears, including Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Maurice Prendergast, and contemporaries such as his friends Marsden Hartley, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, and Barnett Newman, Avery’s style remained uniquely his own, even as he experimented with multiple stylistic approaches. He became a master of flat, two-dimensional objects in which the painting itself is the subject matter. His masterly use of color secured his place as a central figure in twentieth-century art. His intertwining of flatness with vivid coloration can be experienced in the work of younger artists whose creativity he impacted, including Willian Baziotes, Helen Frankenthaler, and Alex Katz.

Milton Avery grew up in financial hardship. He father died early, and young Avery was forced to work to support his mother, his aunt, and his aunt’s children. Avery never lost the haunted memory of his humble beginnings, although his later circle of friends included the sophisticated and culturally aware. His subject matter, therefore, drew on the inner strength of his family, his circle of friends and his delight in vaudeville performers, animals, new landscapes and new ideas.

At Avery’s memorial service in 1965, Mark Rothko famously remarked: “There have been several others in our generation who have celebrated the world around them, but none with that inevitability where the poetry penetrated every pore of the canvas to the very last touch of the brush. For Avery was a great poet-inventor who had invented sonorities never seen or heard before. From these we have learned much and will learn more for a long time to come.”

Placing Avery is curated by Jacqueline Shilkoff, Neuberger Museum of Art Assistant Curator.

Milton Avery
oil on canvas
30 x 40 inches
Collection Neuberger Museum of Art
Purchase College, State University of New York
Gift of Roy R. Neuberger / Photo: Jim Frank

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