Tyler Green in his blog, Modern Art Notes has been reflecting piecemeal on the Amon Carter’s Intimate Modernism exhibition, the museum’s current look back at Fort Worth’s circle of pioneering artists in the ’40s and ’50s. In Dickson Reeder’s “Conversation Piece,” Green sees what seems fairly obvious; hence, perhaps, the lack of extensive comment in the show’s catalog: The painting is intended as a gentle but not-so-subtle protest against the period’s extensive segregation. It puts his son and a young African-American girl together, playing with paper cutouts.
But Green also spots a rather startling reference: Reeder seems to have modeled his painting on Manet’s famous, once-shocking Olympia, the 1865 nude-with-a-black-maid that caused such outrage at the Paris Salon that precautions had to be taken to protect it. If Reeder did so, which seems doubtless, it’s ironic, considering that Olympia caused a stir not for its racial mixing but its frank treatment of nudity/sexuality and its clear suggestion that its subject is a prostitute waiting for a client, a subject/tradition that Picasso picked up for his Demoiselles d’Avignon.
But as Green has noted in previous installments of his series and as the exhibition makes plain, this kind of borrowing and transplanting of a wide variety of European models with American subjects was a chief modus of the circle, trying to find the right hybrid of modernism that would flourish here.
Or see the always-amusing, always-enlightening Dave Hickey in the think video clip above on the Fort Worth Circle’s “genteel surrealism” and early abstract expressionism and the fact that it always helps if you’re wealthy.