Monday, July 31, 2006

Let's Explore Alfred Steiglitz: Stieglitz changed art in America

By Leanne Goebel

Special to The PREVIEW

Alfred Stieglitz showed the works of Cezanne, Picasso, Rodin and Matisse at his Little Gallery of the Photo-Secession, six years before the famed Armory Show in 1913.

On July 13, 2006, 21 interested artists, photographers and community members gathered at Shy Rabbit for a presentation on Stieglitz and his 291 Gallery by Dr. Marilee Jantzer-White.

White, who teaches art history at Fort Lewis College, is a petite woman with a passion for her work. She talked without notes for over an hour about modern art in the early 20th century. More importantly, she provided slides to visually highlight the spectacular differences between American Art in early 1900 and the work of those that Stieglitz promoted.

The realism and austerity of photography at the time, used only to document things as they existed, was represented in the work of Timothy Sullivan, a Civil War photographer. This contrasted with the work of Stieglitz, whose famous photo "The Steerage" is all about line and form.

Even more dramatically, White showed slides of work by Thomas Cole from the Hudson River School representing painters trying to capture the realism of nature on the canvas. Stieglitz wanted photography to be considered fine art and in order to do so, felt that painting no longer needed to document things as they are in nature, but should move in a new direction. The only work he found at the time was that of European painters like Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse.

Seeing a work by Matisse, with all its vibrant, emotional color, or a work by Cezanne, with it's geometry of white canvas and focused color, in contrast with a painting by someone like Thomas Cole drives home the vast difference between what was considered art and taught in the art schools at the time, and what we now know as modern art.

Stieglitz believed that painters and photographers should not mimic what the other can achieve in their medium.

It was in 1907, 1908 and 1909 that Stieglitz launched the first exhibitions of Picasso's work in the United States. Stieglitz also showed nudes by Rodin that had so incensed the German public that the gallery director who showed the works in Germany had to resign. In the United States, all of Rodin's nude work sold to mostly women.

American artist John Marin was a Stieglitz favorite and it was fascinating to see Stieglitz photographs of the Woolworth Building in New York next to an abstracted painting by Marin of the same scene.

Yet, many artists disagreed with Stieglitz emphasis on European painting and sculpture, believing that the genius of America was in its machinery and that American artists needed to focus on something entirely new. Eventually, artists like Duchamp, O'Keeffe and Arthur Dove would move in that direction.

Until 1930, O'Keeffe painted very small, but influenced by muralists like Diego Rivera and moving away from Stieglitz's philosophy, she began painting what she described as something American, something big and up close.

It was Duchamp who felt that Stieglitz had it all wrong and that American art should go in a different direction. And it did. Today, Duchamp is more well-known than any American painter shown by Stieglitz. Very few people have ever heard of John Marin or Arthur Dove. Even O'Keeffe is better known than her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.

The presentation by Dr. White was the first in a series called "Let's Explore," a new program at Shy Rabbit. "Let's Explore Alfred Stieglitz" was made possible by the generous donation of slide projectors and screens from Bruce Andersen and Jim Struck. The event was coordinated by Al Olson.

The "Let's Explore" series will continue to bring in guest speakers, slide presentations, films and experts to discuss the many facets of art and art history.

In August, "Let's Explore" will feature a film on Andy Goldsworthy and in September, a film on Isamu Noguchi.

"The 'Let's Explore' series is an opportunity to bring in experts in their field to Pagosa and for those of us actively involved in the creation of Shy Rabbit to do what we love&emdash;explore art in all it's many forms and facets, sit around and talk about it and share in the experience," Michael Coffee said.

"Let's Explore--Goldsworthy" is one night only, Aug. 12, and "Let's Explore--Noguchi" is Sept. 14. The suggested donation for both films is $5.

Shy Rabbit is located at 333 Bastille Drive, Units B-1, B-4, west of downtown. Take U.S. 160 to North Pagosa Boulevard, go north to Bastille Drive (at UBC), turn left and stay on Bastille past Hopi. Shy Rabbit is located next to Pine Valley Rental. For more information: log onto or call (970) 731-2766.

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