Hailed as “the perfect painter” by avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, Juan Gris developed his signature approach to Cubism beginning in 1911. Using classic café subject matter — such as the newspaper, seltzer bottle, and glass seen here — Gris made subtle adjustments to the conventions of picture making that render ordinary objects both familiar and newly intriguing. For example, in The Checkerboard (1915) and its bird’s-eye view of a tabletop, a cunning reorganization of pictorial space places objects that should have volume into a single compressed plane. With a nod to play, Gris shows us a fragmented checkerboard, an emblem of the strategy and gamesmanship at the center of his art.
One of Surrealism’s most important patrons, Edward James, was a willing collaborator whose sense of play initiated commissions for his homes from such artists as Salvador Dali and Leonora Carrington. James was impressed with the work of Rene Magritte, which was displayed in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London, so he invited the artist to paint three decorative canvases for the ballroom of his London home. Magritte painted On The Threshold of Liberty during his stay there in 1937, as the centerpiece of the three works. Originally set behind two-way mirrors, the works would become visible when James changed the lighting, provoking what he called “a profound sensation.”
After Kurt Seligmann (1900 – 1962) settled in Paris, his sinister, biomorphic compositions gained the attention of Andre Breton, who invited him to join the Surrealist group in 1937. With the outbreak of World War II, Seligmann became the first Surrealist to arrive in New York, and he was instrumental in the emigration of most of the movement’s leading figures. Transformed by contact with new cultures, Seligmann’s work continued to evolve, and as the Surrealist’s acknowledged expert on magic, he infused his paintings with mythology and esotericism. Indeed, the year he made this work, Magnetic Mountain(1948) he published The Mirror of Magic, a history of the occult. The winding forms and mystical quality of this canvas would influence a new generation of American artists, including his student, Robert Motherswell.
German emigre Kem Weber (1889 – 1963) designed original and colorful furniture and interiors devoid of overt historical references and evocative of modern times.
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.
One of the most versatile and inventive English artists of the postwar era, David Hockey settled in Los Angeles in 1964. An especially iconic example from a group of double portraits of friends and associates from the 1960s, American Collectors (1968) depicts the contemporary-art collectors Fred and Marcia Weisman in the sculpture garden of their of their Los Angeles home. As stiff and still as the objects surrounding them, the couple stands apart, his stance echoed in the totem pole to the right, hers in the Henry Moore sculpture behind her. Brilliant light flatters the scene and sets the couple in sharp relief; they seem oblivious to each other as well as to their art
The Drinkers (1890) was painted during Vincent Van Gogh’s time in the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, a small town in the south of France. Van Gogh was highly productive during this time, but he struggled to maintain confidence in his own abilities as painter. To retrain himself, he made a number of copies after the works of artists he admired, which freed him from having to produce original compositions and allowed him to concentrate instead on interpretation. Van Gogh borrowed this composition from a black and white print after Honore-Victorin Daumier, but the vibrant colors were his own invention. The greenish palette may be an allusion to the notorious alcoholic drink, Absinthe.
By the 1970s, Roy Lichtenstein’s comic-strip style of painting had become his trademark. While he had adapted his early compositions from actual comic books, here Lichtenstein referred to an art historical rather than a pop culture source: Henri Matisse’s Red Studio (1911, in the collection of MoMA), which features Matisse’s canvases casually set around a room. Into the flattened studio space of Artists Studio Foot Medication (1974), Lichtenstein similarly inserted whole of partial versions of his own real and imagined artworks across a range of subject matter, including geometric abstraction. This painting’s title calls out the 1962 print Foot Medication, reimagined as a monumental painting at the upper left. This kind of self-quotation, at once playful and thoughtful, would become anther feature of Lichtenstein’s production.