Picasso is the artistic force in a revelatory book, Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America, unraveling how his art, and the work of so many avant-garde contemporaries, finally found a place in American culture. His defiance of given norms was initially scorned by critics, museum directors, art dealers, and buyers. One said, “Such mad pictures would never mean anything to America.”
In the first pages of Hugh Eakin’s new book there’s a vivid portrait of how we were in the American cultural landscape in early 20th century:
“…the American establishment was often parochial, moralizing, xenophobic, and rife with prejudice. The country’s economic foundations had been built on slavery and cheap immigrant labor. Women could not vote. Factory workers had few rights. And in the Jim Crow south, a vast system of racial terror maintained de facto subjugation over some 9 million African Americans. As for culture, there was a deep unease about the unconventional and the foreign.”
We Americans are, have been, always will be, a grand experiment in self-government, tested now in myriad ways, the eventual outcome in time unknown. In art, it’s worth remembering that a now-classic Picasso, “Les demoiselles d’Avignon” was once rejected as scandalous, as “unspeakable.”
We keep on, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, “boats against the current.”
Likewise, I enjoyed this book a great deal, very well written and surprising. What surprised me that the focus is really on two others, John Quinn – completely unknown to me – and Alfred Barr. Both were incredibly influential in shaping the visual arts that we see now.