Kasmin opens an exhibition of ten evocative early watercolors by Stuart Davis

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Kasmin opens an exhibition of ten evocative early watercolors by Stuart Davis
Stuart Davis, Rurales No. 1, Cuba, 1920. Watercolor on paper, 17 3/4 x 23 3/8 inches (sight), 45.1 x 59.4 cm. 19 x 24 3/4 inches (sheet), 48.3 x 62.8 cm © 2021 Estate of Stuart Davis / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of Kasmin, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- Kasmin opened Stuart Davis in Havana, an exhibition of ten evocative early watercolors painted in 1920 following Stuart Davis’ brief yet formative trip to Havana, Cuba, where the artist convalesced after contracting Spanish flu. Curated by Priscilla Vail Caldwell in collaboration with Earl Davis and the Estate of Stuart Davis, the exhibition is on view at 297 Tenth Avenue from June 30–August 13, 2021. This is the second solo exhibition of work by the artist at Kasmin since the gallery began representing the Estate in 2018, and the first to focus on Davis’ time in Cuba. In addition to the suite of paintings, this exhibition presents a trove of archival material documenting the artist’s trip including postcards, lottery tickets, and the painter’s passport.

On December 31st, 1919, Davis joined his close friend and fellow painter Glenn O. Coleman in Havana. Due south of Florida and just 110 miles offshore, Havana attracted those seeking adventure, with the temptation of late, boozy nights, or as writer Gilbert Seldes described for The New Yorker in 1926, “The hours kept are Harlem Hours.” Over a century later, as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, our understanding of deprivation, desire for novel experiences, as well as the creative inspiration that unfamiliar environments can provide, is equally acute. Davis’ observations, those of an eager traveler, communicate to us directly despite the passage of time.

His new surroundings quickly engendered a sense of ambition in Davis at a pivotal moment in the young artist’s career when he was just 27 years old. Compelled by the burgeoning spirit of Modernism and crafting an original visual vocabulary, in his Havana watercolors we see Davis unleashed, boldly experimenting with flat planes of bright color. Works such as Dancer’s on Havana Street (1920) and Woman with Shawl (1920) are comprised of angular silhouettes rendered in bold hues, purple, ocher, black, bright yellow, and deep red, foreshadowing works from the late 1920s in which Davis would synthesize subject-matter into an increasingly rigorous geometry defined by color rather than dimensional space.

Melding reality and fiction, Davis layers depictions of Havana’s natural landscape with detailed architectural elements pulled from recognizable structures such as the Church Santo Angel Custodio, La Fortaleza of San Carlos de la Cabaña, or the fortifications of the old city. Parque Centrale—Cuba (1920) includes a broken outline of the park’s statue of political figure Carlos Manuel de Céspedes amongst pulsating swaths of color. These translucent washes of paint allow images to shift in and out of focus, generating an ephemerality associated with memory or dream.

In February 1920, Davis returned to the United States, a country in the midst of industrial and intellectual upheaval as well as robust growth. The “Roarin’ 20s” as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “was going to be the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it.” Or, in the case of Davis, plenty to paint.

Stuart Davis (1892–1964) is one of the preeminent figures of the American Modernist movement. Over the course of his prolific career, which spanned the early 20th century through the post-war era, Davis developed a distinct visual language that fused Cubism and high-art with his own pioneering motifs of consumerism and the syncopated rhythms of jazz. Davis’s work has been exhibited worldwide and is held in the permanent collection of prominent institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA; San Francisco Museum of Art, CA; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; among many others. Recent significant exhibitions include the 2016 critically acclaimed Stuart Davis: In Full Swing, which opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY, and traveled to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR.

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