Hilton Kramer on the Charles Demuth exhibition up through Mar. 6 at Zabriskie Gallery:
The American painter Charles Demuth (1883-1935) was an artist who took a certain pride–aesthetic pride–in his carefully cultivated limitations. He didn’t hesitate to boast about them, as we know from the wonderful comparison he once made between his own talent and that of his more robust contemporary, John Marin. “John Marin and I drew our inspiration from the same source, French modernism,” Demuth said. “He brought his up in buckets and spilt much along the way. I dipped mine out with a teaspoon but I never spilt a drop.”
The humor, the exactitude, the unembarrassed self-knowledge–everything about that remark reminds me of another self-confessed American aesthete, the poet Wallace Stevens. Artists and writers of this persuasion–Henry James and Marianne Moore belong in the same company–cannot be expected to command the attention of a large public. Their work tends to be a little too special for mainstream taste, and the acclaim they enjoy tends to be posthumous. Yet their achievements are among the finest in American art and literature.
Demuth’s place in this constellation of talents would be more widely recognized if we saw his work more often, but exhibitions of his pictures have been a rarity lately–which is why the exhibition that Thomas S. Holman and Virginia Zabriskie have organized at the Zabriskie Gallery is an event to be cherished. Though it’s a long way from being the full-scale retrospective that’s needed, the show’s 31 items–mostly watercolors and drawings dating from 1907 to 1933–are more than sufficient to remind us of Demuth’s virtues….
Read the whole thing here. Then go see the show, and look for me.