John Marin. The Red Sun-Brooklyn Bridge, 1922. Alfred Stieglitz Collection.

January 23 to April 17, 2011 – The Art Institute of Chicago

During his lifetime, American modernist John Marin (1870–1953) was the country’s most celebrated artist. His improvisational approach to color, paint handling, perspective, and movement situated him as a leading figure in modern art and helped influence the Abstract Expressionist movement. This exhibition is the first to present the Art Institute of Chicago’s impressive collection of Marin’s work in its entirety, ranging from early images rooted in traditional practice to more personal and experimental compositions.
While Marin worked prolifically in watercolor, etching, and oil during a career that spanned more than 50 years, it was the medium of watercolor that encouraged his development of a bold, original style that is both contemporary and authentically American. John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism explores the artist’s working method, his modernist vision as it developed through etching and into watercolor, and his intuitive investigation of the inherent properties of the medium to craft a new avant-garde methodology. Examining the tension between representation and abstraction, Marin conjured in line and color his visceral reactions to his favorite subjects. The 120 works in the exhibition, which include loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the collection of Edward McCormick Blair, are organized chronologically and grouped according to the sites where they were painted, including New York City, France and the Tyrol, the Maine coastline, and the New Mexico desert.

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue also illuminate how Marin, who had a strong interest in the presentation of his watercolors, chose frames and mounts for each work. Legendary photographer, dealer, and collector Alfred Stieglitz bequeathed a significant number of Marin’s frames and mounts, along with some 40 watercolors, to the Art Institute. These frames have been researched, conserved, and in some cases also replicated for the exhibition, where each work will be presented in a frame of the artist’s own design. The catalogue’s authors also examine Marin and Stieglitz’s strategies for the presentation and display of modern American art, highlighting their championing of works on paper.

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