Exactly 100 years ago an art exhibition opened in New York City that would change forever America's appreciation for painting and also mark the beginning of the American modernist movement. The International Exhibition of Modern Art in The Armory Show, an exhibit at the 69th Regiment Armory on 26th Street was seen by over 100,000 New Yorkers and introduced the works of Marcel Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi, and Henri Matisse, and many others. The show also included works by a number of American painters, such as Edward Hopper and the painting Hackensack River (see below) by the German-American artist Oscar Bluemner.
Bluemner was close friends with the German-American photographer and pivotal modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz, and was himself in the vanguard of American modernist paining. For years his work was largely forgotten or ignored, but that changed in 2005 when the Whitney Museum for American Art featured an exhbition devoted to his art: Oscar Bluemner - A Passion for Color. Now the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey is running an exhibition of Bluemner's paintings of the town of Paterson (through June 17, 2013).
American modernist art was heaviy influenced by French painters, and American artists flocked to Paris to experience the new styles. Blumner, along with another Stieglitz protégé Marsden Hartley as well as the German-American painter Lyonel Feininger belonged to the small group of American painters who found inspiration in German Expressionism, and spent time in Berlin and Munich. All three artists were heavily influenced by the Blaue Reiter and their symbolic use of color. Both Feininger and Bluemner had the sensibilities of architects (Bluemner worked as an architect before turning to painting full time in 1910). Buildings dominate Bluemner's paintings, often factory buildings on the outskirts of town where industry intersects with nature. But Bluemner's factories are not the drab, soot-covered structures of the Ashcan School, but rather bright red, vibrant monuments to working class vitality. While Feinigner sought to capture panes of light in his paintings, Bluemner painted blocks of color. Color was the focus of his aesthetic:
"I am convinced everyday: pure color, thin color, clor only, starting with color, for the sake of color, feeling of color, through color, and expressing life or nature, the impossible-to-render phenomenon." (Oscar Bluemner 1911)
Blumner's first one-person exhibition was at the Falerie Fritz Gurlitt in Berlin in 1912, the same gallery that introduced the expressionist group Die Brücke that same year. But Bluemner's paintings failed to sell. Nor did his participation in the Armory Show, or even a one-man exhibition in New York put on by his friend Stieglitz produce many sales. Bluemner fell into poverty and was destitute by the time he took his own life in 1938.
In 2011, Blumner's 1915 painting Illusion of a Prairie, New Jersey (see below) sold at auction for $5.3 million.