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Fred Jones museum reassembles exhibit from 1940s

An art exhibit that created considerable controversy when it debuted in the 1940s, has been reassembled for an exhibit at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.
BY JOHN BRANDENBURG Published: March 10, 2013

Stuart Davis reduces urban transit and spaces to flat, color-saturated, intersecting planes, in “Trees and El,” and gives a playful, almost Joan Miro-like sense of whimsy to his “Still Life with Flowers.”

Cairo-born artist O. Louis Guglielmi combines color, cubism and realism brilliantly in his 1946 oil of a mother leading her son up the steep steps of a “Subway Exit, “ while Walt Kuhn's 1941 oil of a “Still Life with Red Bananas” has a strongly modernist, Cezanne-like presence.

Karl Zerbe expands the still life genre and makes it more expressionistic in “Around the Lighthouse,” an encaustic canvas of fish, fishing lures, a shell and other ghostly white objects, sharing the picture plane, ambiguously, with a poster of a lighthouse.

Marsden Hartley brings a rough, reddish-brown, powerful painterliness to his 1934 oil of a giant whale-shaped boulder — a work which finds a strong echo in Everett Spruce's 1945 oil of a “Canyon at Night” and in Julian Levi's 1942-43 oil of “Wasteland Images, Martha's Vineyard.”

Vigorous brushwork, a high horizon line and a fine balance between relatively realistic and more abstract elements turn John Marin's oils of a “Seascape” and a “Sea and Boat” into near masterpieces.

Dark, flat, saturated colors, and starkly simplified figurative shapes, work well for Robert Gwathmey in his oils of black “Workers on the Land” and a “Worksong,” paintings that testify to the racial sensitivity on “an eighth-generation white Virginian.”

Georgia O'Keeffe contributes an understated yet highly effective and evocative 1930 small oil of gentle, curving “Small Hills Near Alcalde,” done a year after her first trip to New Mexico.

On view with the more than 70 paintings in the exhibit are some 38 outstanding watercolors, done at the same time, which were intended for an Asian tour, before it was also canceled, and they were auctioned off, in the wake of the scandal.

Drawing on the permanent collections of 10 museums, collectors and other public institutions, the “Art Interrupted” show is highly recommended during the rest of its run at OU, after which it will go to Indiana University and the Georgia Museum of Art.

— John Brandenburg