Marin was an important American modernist
Born in New Jersey, John Marin (1870-1953) was a key part of the “Stieglitz Circle,” a group of American modernists who were championed by Alfred Stieglitz (husband of Georgia O’Keeffe) and shown in his New York galleries. Marin’s known for his gestural, abstract watercolors of rural Maine, where he spent summers, and New York City.
“Marin was very interested in motion—that’s really what’s in a lot of his drawings,” curator Ann Prentice Wagner says. “Even if what he was drawing was technically sitting very still, or physically actually moving, he would feel an energy in it. As he said, ‘It is this moving of me that I’m trying to express.’”
Marin’s roots are in New England, but these works are … here?
The largest collection, some 970 pieces, of Marin’s work was given to the National Gallery of Art by the artist’s family. But back in 2014, John Marin’s daughter-in-law gave another large chunk of his work—290 watercolors and drawings—to the Arkansas Arts Center. “When Norma Marin was looking for a place for another big deposit, she was looking for a place that wasn’t right next to where things were already,” Ann says. Combine that with the fact that the AAC already had a sizable collection of Stieglitz Circle artists, an established collection of works on paper and a good relationship with the National Gallery of Art, and you start to see why the gift made sense. To most, anyway.
“Let me tell you, there are a lot of people in Maine who are jealous,” Ann says. “One in particular—there’s this one guy who writes and blogs up there, an interesting fellow, and he’s made it known that he would like to have had the collection there. We would love to take this exhibition up there, if there’s a venue that’s interested!”
You’ll get a glimpse over the artist’s shoulder in this exhibition
Of the 270 works in the AAC’s collection, 79 pieces will be mounted for Becoming John Marin, along with 33 loans from other institutions. “We’re bringing in major finished works—etchings from Philadelphia, oils from the Metropolitan Museum, Crystal Bridges—to hang alongside the sketches, so you can really see his process,” Ann says. “You’re getting a chance to see what his experience was like with things that would not normally be seen outside of the studio, but you also get to see the completed work.”
Ann went the distance for this research—literally
Back in fall 2016, she traveled to Maine to meet with the Marin family, and to spend time in the places the artist painted. “I was able, sometimes, to just practically stand in his footsteps,” she says. “There are things that explain themselves when you’re on site in a way that nothing else is going to do that for you.”
Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work will be on view from Jan. 26 through April 22. The exhibition will be accompanied by an in-depth website and a catalog printed in conjunction with the UA Press. For more information, visit arkansasartscenter.org.