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"Discovering the American Modern 1907-1936: The King Collection" on view at The El Paso Museum of Art
Arthur Dove, Westport, c. 1911-1914. Pastel on paper. 8 5/8 x 10 1/4.

EL PASO, TX.- During the past three decades American collectors Maria and Barry King have built a pre-eminent and comprehensive collection of early 20th-century American modernist art. The El Paso Museum of Art is the exclusive venue for the public presentation of the King Collection, featuring 90 selections from the larger collection of over 100. Dating from 1907 to 1936 and representing the work of 64 artists, the pictures are by the hands of acknowledged masters such as Marsden Hartley, Thomas Hart Benton, Rockwell Kent, John Marin, Robert Henri, Charles Sheeler, Stuart Davis, and Joseph Stella, alongside essential modernists whose untimely deaths or other factors caused them to fall into relative obscurity—for example, Patrick Henry Bruce, Arthur B. Carles, Manierre Dawson, Albert Bloch, Henry Lyman Sayen, Oscar Bluemner, Hugo Robus, and Ben Benn. Any museum would be a proud home to the King Collection, which would constitute a firm institutional nucleus of early 20th-century American modernism.

The exhibition organizes the King works in a loosely chronological manner with multiple pieces by a single artist displayed in proximity, allowing the visitor to appreciate the variety of approaches existing at a specific moment as well as to consider the personal evolution of certain artists. A case in point is Arthur Dove, represented by an early Fauvist landscape painted in France along with a slightly later pastel illustrating the bold abstraction and originality of his mature style. The exhibition title, Discovering the American Modern, speaks in three ways: to the rich work of the diverse artists who participated in the evolution of early American modernism—to the collecting endeavors of Maria and Barry King—and finally to viewers’ discoveries of forgotten modernists as well as new facets to famous figures. The accompanying publication, Modern American Painting 1907–1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, contributes to research and documentation of early American modernism by providing scholarly entries on each of the artists on display.

Distinguished by its focus, breadth, and quality, the King Collection also possesses a personal stamp, evident in the artworks’ consistently expressive color and handling (whether the sensually smooth techniques of Georgia O’Keeffe and Arnold Aaron Friedman or the thickly painted surfaces of Marguerite and William Zorach). The works in the collection are generally balanced between landscapes and floral and fruit still lifes, supplemented by almost a dozen figural works. As collectors, the Kings gravitate toward bold modernist compositions in which American artists, inspired by European innovations like Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, and Expressionism, ventured forth to formulate their own approaches—thereby creating artworks that are both individual and uniquely American. The American modernists became acquainted with the latest European vanguard styles by visiting the 291 gallery of Alfred Stieglitz (represented in the show by his famous photogravure The Steerage), viewing the famous 1913 Armory Show (for example, Man Ray, represented by an early oil), and in many cases traveling to Europe before World War I. Notably, this was the first historical period where American artists abroad in Europe went there not simply to learn and follow, but to study, digest, and then create their own unique modernist styles. A concrete example is the Cubist-influenced style of Synchromism, originated in Paris in 1912–13 by the Americans Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright (each represented by a proto-Synchromist painting). And ultimately, the early American modernists’ active sense of determinism and will to create something new would serve as an important foundation for the American originality expressed after World War II in Abstract Expressionism and other movements.

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