Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Abstract Show of 1915

John Phillips
(Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1915)

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That’s Bill’s idea of “Abstract’ Art
Palette and Chisel Club Janitor Can’t Understand New School


The “abstractionists” had gone from the Palette and Chisel clubrooms, leaving Bill Fleever, the janitor, alone among the phantasmagoria that comprise the first art exhibition of the group.

“Now w’y”, said Bill Pleever, argumentatively, as he paused before an abstact impression of “A Bride in the Nude”.

“W’y, araks you, w’en a artist with a chance to paint the woman form diwine, doe ‘e ‘ave to make ‘er look like a dish of ‘am an eggs” W’y Anthony Comstock could ‘ang that picture on ‘is walls and never know there was anythink indecent about it”

Bill Pleever poured the leavings from one glas of punch into another until he had a full one, and shook his head at the way of an artist with a woman.

It Lacks Punch

Bill may be a poor critic, but looking back at that “Bride in the Nude”, it doesn’t seem to have the punch that “September Morn” did, for instance.

There is one thing you can say for “abstractionist art” You’ll never read where a prominent wine merchant recognized wife’s figure in a filmy web and sued for divorce, naming the artist as co-respondent. His wife’s figure would look like a union suit on the wash line or some boiled Bermuda onions on toast, according to her artist.

As art it is all right. But if little Willie with his juvenile paints did anything like that on the wall, he would get the sorest sensation under the seat of his trousers that mother’s slipper had left in all his seven years.

Back from Paree

The first exhibition of the new school was opened by the Palette and Chisel club in its salon in the Athenaeum last night. Practically all of the artist members have exhibits. The school was brought back from Paris by S. J. Kennedy who had been over there for six years and had plenty of opportunity to study the schism in its native lair.

The opening evening was given over to the “private view” so prized among the devotee, and threw re no skeptical persons present with lorgnettes and so forth to dampen enthusiasm. Artists’ wives, artists’ models, artists and lady artists were present. As the school is so new criticism was rather restrained. For example, no one cared to say what Walter Ufer had in mind when he painted “Evil thoughts”. But as soon as Walter Ufer said he had evil thoughts in mind, it became at once apparent that the job was very bad, in fact almost criminally bad, and ever one exclaimed over it.

S.J. Kennedy explained that abstractionist art ws the painting of an impression without reference to form and dependent only upon color and balance. Abstract color from form. That is the idea.

Ah Reason at the Bottom

“I believe this is going to be permanent”, said Mr. Kennedy. It will not go the way of the cubists and the futurists because it has reason at the bottom.”
Miss Gladys Nichols and Arthur Keyes gave an abstractionist dance, and abstractionist punch was served.

Sam Kennedy

(Cow Bell, June 1, 1915)


With Abstract Show,
While Press and Public are not Slow
to Find Good Signs In Pure Designs
and Harmonies of Hues and Lines
The World of Fact Is Not Attacked
Just Given Something That It Lacked.

To revolt against the established order – to send a tremor through the skillfully woven structure of the academic – to rend criterions laid down by the elect –even to put in question his own laboriously built-up individuality – has been the exalted privilege of every dreamer. In no line of mental excitation has this prerogative been more assiduously used than among the painters of the last twenty years or so.

Some stray germ of this rebellious fever found its way into the studio of John Phillips a few months ago and there took up its abode with that unusually level headed painter. His canvas in the “Abstract” exhibit, titled “Moods” was the result. The idea of holding an exhibition of this modern nature spread rapidly among those of our members who have been producing advanced creations. Forty-two paintings by twenty-five artists came in.

These painters are not protesting against any sincere effort, past or present, but rather against the patent crudities, negligible design and disagreeable color affected by the various ‘ists, post, neo etc., as revealed in past exhibits. It is an effort toward greater freedom of imaginative design, opposed to the naturalistic, and being so, at once permits the full range of palette experimentation in short to broaden the painter’s field rather than narrow it.

This exhibit opened May 17 with a reception and dance, inter spaced with some special features. Walter Ufer gave an abstract recitation, “The Saturday Half Yell-day at a Ball Game” Joe Kleitsch read a choice poetical gem, replete with hitherto undreamed mortuary horrors. Four professional dancers were well received, in dances arranged for this occasion, and Miss Della Brunswick sang several selections, with Miss Meyers, Miss Ackermann, and Mr. Levine, at the piano. Enjoyed most of all perhaps, were the three piano compositions of Mr. Isadore Berger, inspired by certain paintings in the exhibit. Mr. Berger courageously locked himself in Phillips’ studio, with the three canvases and a piano, for several days, causing that unusually placid person much neurotic agitation.

Without any great knowledge of music, the writer may voice the evident satisfaction of Mr. Berger’s audience. Nos. 2 from Carlsen’s “Wedding March” was especially pleasing and No. 3 inspired by Kleitsch’s “Chemistry” proved full of color and movement. A second hearing of No. 1 from Phillips’ “Moods” might show equal merit; it was doubtless the most difficult to interpret..

Any attempt to more than indicate the nature of these paintings would be wasted effort. They must be seen and studied. One is especially fortunate if one can view them under the genial guidance of Sam Kennedy, a very concrete personality, with a soul eager for abstractions. The attendance for the first two days was far greater than any exhibit total the Club has ever had, owing doubtless to the wide publicity given it by the Chicago papers.

Only one canvas was rejected by the jury of selection.


Harry Leon Engle

I think they took this show serious -- or, at least as serious as anything else they did. It was two years after the Armory Show, Sam Kennedy had just spent 6 years in Paris -- and Harry Engle was right: "abstract" was here to stay -- while Cubism and Futurism were just passing fads.

But whether any of the paintings at the show have escaped the landfill -- that's another question. I wonder how they compared with, say, Arthur Dove.


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