A gem of a show — with a high percentage of gemlike as well as intriguing and culturally significant works of art in it — is on view at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. The 57 works from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in the “American Moderns 1910-1960: From O'Keeffe to Rockwell” exhibit may not exactly break new ground, but they are a delight to behold.
Figurative works that greet museum visitors, under the heading “Engaging Characters,” are engaging indeed, and serve to whet our appetites for the rest of the show. A woman in a simple gray suit sits with arms folded and an abstracted look at a “Cafe Table,” her pale face almost masklike, in an outstanding small oil done in about 1940 by Raphael Soyer.
Guy Pene du Bois gives a raffish edge and pointed beard to “The Confidence Man,” telling a woman in a black dress something, and contrasts a man in a wheelchair with a couple in the foreground of a second oil.
Reginald Marsh captures the animation of a ragtag crowd in front of the “Grand Windsor Hotel” in shades of brown, in a 1946 egg tempera which combines drawing and painting elements masterfully.
A beribboned officer and men who look like captains of industry seem to have profited from World War II handsomely in “Welcome Home,” a superb, satirically distorted 1946 oil by Jack Levine.
Mahonri M. Young conveys the intensity and exaggerated animation of a boxer landing a “Right to the Jaw” in a bronze — a work which contrasts nicely with the quiet elegance of Elie Nadelman's “Resting Stag.”
Norman Rockwell offers us a comically charming 1944 oil of “The Tattoo Artist,” adding to the list of girlfriends on a sailor's arm, in front of a background of patriotic, tongue-in-cheek wallpaper. Quaintly charming, too, are a snowy winter scene by Grandma Moses, and a heavily textured, folk art-like oil of a “Girl with a Dog,” in her striped dress and floppy hat, by Morris Hirshfield.
Three men work on “The Sand Cart,” pulled by white horses on a beach, in front of blue water, and a sunlit green, gray and golden mountain range, in a visually stunning 1917 oil by George Wesley Bellows
A dark “Bridge Tower,” with ships passing in front of it, and tall buildings behind it, provides a strong visual anchor for a 1929 oil by Glenn O. Coleman, in the exhibit's “Modern Structures” section.
George Copeland Ault reduces a “Manhattan Mosaic” of buildings to a coolly geometric exercise in precisionism, and Stuart Davis makes a flat, abstract “Landscape with Clay Pipe” sparkle with vibrant color.
Flowers, fruit, fish and other objects are handled with panache, in a variety of modernist styles, in the show's concluding “Still Life Revisited,” “Nature Essentialized” and “Cubist Experiments” sections.
Georgia O'Keeffe contributes abstract, simplified oils of a “Black Pansy & Forget-Me-Nots” and “2 Yellow Leaves,” and Marsden Hartley makes a pair of dead, open-mouthed “White Cod” stand out dramatically.
Milton Avery gives a little more detail than he usually does to his glowing 1943 oil of the “Artist's Daughter by the Sea,” collecting shells in a pink dress, one of the show's most memorable works.
A line of people about to go “Down to the Sea” in boats, made up of men in dark clothes and women and children in lighter outfits, supplies the symbolic, almost cinematic subject of an oil by Rockwell Kent.
Making the influential style of cubism his own in convincing fashion is Max Weber in his 1919 oil of “The Visit” by several figures whose subdivided faces suggest African masks. Other fine cubistic oils include Alfred Henry Maurer's quirkily appealing “Head of a Girl,” Charles G. Shaw's heavily textured “Still Life” and Stanton Macdonald-Wright's rich-hued “Symphony No. 3.”
An “as you like it” potpourri of the visual splendors of American Modernism, the show is highly recommended and shouldn't be missed during its run through Jan. 6.
— John Brandenburg