On his second stay in New York, Jose Clemente Orozco (1883 – 1959) made many works reflecting the city’s urban expansion and social dimension. The Subway (1928) presents several commuters on New York’s emblematic public transportation system, which first opened in 1904. The shadowy, stone-faced passengers impart a sense of melancholy to the scene, contrasting with the shiny train poles. A highly regarded artist in Mexico, Orozco struggled to find recognition in New York despite showing at several local galleries and completing a five-panel mural cycle at the New School in 1931.
A domestic worker who labored for many years in a convent before becoming a housekeeper, Seraphine Louis (1864 – 1942) painted floral motifs on household items, canvases and boards. Her talent was recognized by one of her employers, the German art critic, dealer, and collector Wilhelm Uhde. The title Tree of Paradise (1928) suggests a concern with religious themes, and the work’s arrangement of jewel-like leaves recalls the stained glass windows of Gothic churches. Louis flattened the elements of landscape into a single plane; a tree extends diagonally across water, as grass and sky weave together to create a decorative interplay of patterns.
German emigre Kem Weber (1889 – 1963) designed original and colorful furniture and interiors devoid of overt historical references and evocative of modern times. Weber came to the US in 1914 to supervise construction of the German Pavilion at the Panema-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. He settled in Southern California, where he developed a thriving design practice.
Produced as part of a nine-piece dining-room suite manufactured by Grand Rapids Chair Company, this Serving Table and Arm Chair (circa 1928–29) feature finishes of painted wood, walnut, and silver leaf with original leather upholstery.
The zigzag pattern in both the walnut veneer of the table and the striking green surfaces of both table and chair attest to Weber’s knowledge of French Art Moderne, while their smooth contours anticipate the sleek look of American streamlined design that would become popular in the 1930s.
Photographed in the Art Institute Chicago
Update June 21st, 2021:
Lo and behold, I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past weekend and thought I recognized the distinctive design of this Kem Weber sideboard and chair from an earlier post — and I was correct! To indulge the completist in me, I’ve added photos of those pieces to this post (sideboard shown with Stuart Davis’s Men and Machine.)
Luigi Lucioni and Paul Cadmus probably met as students, and they doubtless shared acquaintances within New York’s circles of gay artists and writers. Lucioni’s likeness of Cadmus (1928) celebrated the shared passion of two young moderns for the ideal forms of Italian Renaissance art, particularly the paintings of Piero della Francesca. Within a modern close-up format, the artist captured a gaze that is at once tentative and mesmerizing.
This Vanity (1928) stands as a harbinger in the evolution of an American modern style. Norman Bel Geddes (1893 -1988) conceived of it only a year after founding the first industrial design firm in the United States. His prior experience on theater and film sets lent a dramatic flair to his consumer products, including this dressing table and mirror, made of enameled and chrome-plated steel, which was part of a larger suite of metal bedroom furniture.
Designed a the height of the Roaring Twenties, it echoes the sleek modernity of Manhattan skyscrapers, a favored motif among Art Deco designers, with its sequence of setbacks from drawers to mirror top. The industrial materials emphasize the design’s mechanical production, while the polished enamel and elegant trim and drawer pulls suggest something of the luxurious finishes found in handmade Art Deco furniture.
Seen in the Mirror: A reflection of the painting, I Saw The Figure Five in Gold By Charles Demuth.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.