Paul D’Ambrosio, Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers’ Museum
Paul D’Ambrosio will explore the interplay between avant-garde American artists and the American folk art tradition at the turn of the 20th century. To the trained Modernists, folk art vindicated their aesthetic principles, essentially an emphasis on formal design over pictorial realism — and folk art evidenced the essential Americanness of this approach to making art. His lecture will explore the major artists, including Elie Nadelman, Robert Laurent and William and Marguerite Zorach, as well as noted collectors, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Jean Lipman. Together, artists and collectors rescued an American visual tradition from obscurity and made it relevant to the 20th century.
The art world experienced a revolution in the early 20th century. Representational art, which had dominated the West for nearly 500 years, was tossed aside. Recognizable subjects, three-dimensional forms and subtle shading gave way to early 20th century Modernism characterized by boldly colored,simplified shapes, flattened on to the picture plane. The shared aesthetic was described by William Matthew Prior’s oft-quoted newspaper advertisement that “[p]ersons wishing for a flat picture can have a likeness without shade or shadow, at quarter price.” Folk art influenced Modernism, and also obtained increased status from the connection.
Modernist artists, and collectors, returned from Paris, the center of the Modernist movement, to seek out an American art tradition. They found their inspiration in pre-20th century folk art. Folk portraits, weathervanes, decoys, hooked rugs and country furniture were relatively easy to find. These objects had the advantage of being cheap and quintessentially American.