A New American Sculpture, 1914-1945: Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman, and Zorach is the first exhibition to investigate the integral relationships between modernism, classicism, and popular imagery in the interwar sculpture of Gaston Lachaise, Robert Laurent, Elie Nadelman, and William Zorach. The exhibition, co-organized by the Portland Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, will explore how this circle of European-born artists became preeminent figures of modernism in the United States. By juxtaposing their works, A New American Sculpture will reveal the confluences of sources—from archaism and European avant-garde art to vernacular traditions and American popular culture—that informed these artists' novel contributions to the history of sculpture. Assembled from public and private collections, this exhibition of approximately 60 sculptures and a number of preparatory drawings will address the remarkable affinities between the oeuvre of four divergent personalities, who redefined sculpture's expressive potential during the turbulent interbellum period.
Between 1900 and 1914, Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman, and Zorach each enjoyed formative experiences in Paris amid an exhilarating era of artistic experimentation and formentation. They witnessed the development of modern sculptural modes informed by divergent currents of classicism, global sources, the energy of science and industry, and nontraditional technical approaches. By the beginning of the first World War, all four artists had settled in the United States, each responding differently to his new home and laying the seeds for what would become their shared, lifelong preoccupation: exploring the communicative power of the human form.
About The Artists
Gaston Lachaise was born in Paris, France, in 1882. After training in France, he immigrated to America in 1906 to be close to his beloved Isabel Nagel. Lachaise’s Standing Woman (Elevation), his grand and mythological conception of ideal femininity, is one of the most iconic works of American art and was widely praised in its time. In 1935, he became the first living sculptor honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The French-born Robert Laurent was one of America’s earliest modern direct carvers. Inspired by the art he had seen in Paris between 1905 and 1908, the artist cut directly into his wood or stone, allowing the material to guide his forms in sculptures such as the elegant yet powerful Acrobat (see cover). Alongside his mentor Hamilton Easter Field, Laurent founded the Ogunquit Art Colony in Ogunquit, Maine, and became a central figure in the state’s artistic culture.
Born in Poland, Elie Nadelman immigrated to Paris in 1904, where he achieved enormous success before relocating to the United States in 1914. Nadelman’s art is full of joyous contradictions, as he fused styles of the past with modern figures and techniquesin works such as Tango and Man in the Open Air—landmark examples of early-20th-century American sculpture. Nadelman and his wife Viola were significant early collectors of American folk art, and the couple founded the Museum of Folk Arts in Riverdale, New York.
Born in Lithuania but raised in America, William Zorach spent a crucial year in Paris in 1911, where he learned about modern art under the in uence of his future wife Marguerite Zorach (née ompson). William became America’s leading spokesman for direct carving modernism, but he also worked in many other processes. For instance, he cast his Spirit of the Dance, which communicates the energy and possibility of the modern age, in both bronze and aluminum. e version included in our show is the rst bronze cast and it was installed on the artist’s property in Georgetown, Maine, for generations before coming to the PMA for this exhibition.
Opportunities for Press
Looking for a compelling narrative? Here are a few angles we find particularly interesting.
A first look, together
The exhibition and catalogue are the first to examine the commonalities between these four artists, revealing that while they were independent in their crafts, they shared common aesthetic concerns that were foundational to the development of American modernism in the 20th century. In addition, this study offers a new perspective on the artists’ European experiences, expanding the possibilities to understand the transatlantic impulses of modern art.
The push and pull of modernity
This exhibition provides insight into how advances in society impact culture and its affects on creative expression. It would be interesting to explore the parallels between that time and now with regards to progress in technology, science, literature, medicine, and the arts.
moments of upheaval
The work in this exhibition is focused during the time period between the first and second World Wars. Similarly, the western world order seems particularly tumultuous in 2017, with political upheaval, evolving alliances, and shifts in priorities that have been consistent since WWII. Exploring the current historical moment through the lens of these artists and their world could be worthwhile.
The impact of new americans
There are ample opportunities to highlight ideas of what it means to be an American, what the journey from one place to America can do for individuals and art, and how that journey—in the case of this exhibition, a transatlantic one, but applied more generally, the journey of any immigrant to the United states—can create something new, powerful, and significant. Through A New American Sculpture, writers can encourage discussions of what it means to be an American, and why an accepting and welcoming society is a uniquely American idea.