by Bill Lasarow
(Galerie Yoramgil, Beverly Hills) Abraham Walkowitz is one of those shadowy yet familiar figures of American Modernism. He was among the small vangard of artists who first transplanted the sprig of European Modernism here during the first decade of the 20th Century.
ink on paper, 10 x 8".
"Untitled (Abstract)", ink on
paper, 6 3/4 x 5 1/4".
"Portrait of Isadora Duncan,"
pastel on paper, 14 x 8 1/2".
"Untitled (Isadora Duncan),"
pencil on paper, 12 1/2 x 8".
|The notion that art is a non-verbal language that holds a kinship with music, dance and other similarly non-verbal means of expression may not resonate with possibility anymore. But a century ago it propelled Wassily Kandinsky into the new realms of non-referential abstraction. Walkowitz was among this new generation of true believers in a new visual language that would emerge from the inner life of the artist. Indeed, he did not hesitate to try his hand at the pure abstraction pioneered by Kandinsky. Untitled examples here juxtapose linear elements drawn from the dancing motions of the Duncan studies with Cubist geometric faceting. The eye jumps from foreground to background layers that initially seem arbitrarily joined. But visual connections start to emerge until, in the best of these, a rich orchestration of space is achieved.
While Walkowitz never developed an art that was sufficiently commanding or original to place him at the front rank of American Modernism, his place immediately behind was well earned. It is difficult to appreciate the level of inner certainty Walkowitz and other members of the nascent avant-garde clearly possessed--from the time of his first exhibition in 1908 he had to learn to accept ridicule. As a member of Alfred Steiglitz inner circle and a regular exhibitor at his renowned 291 Gallery until it closed in 1917, and as an active participant in the keystone Armory Show of 1913, Walkowitz quite knowingly accepted that oftentimes large numbers of visitors would attend his shows and those of his close colleagues not to admire but to laugh at what they saw.
After the First World War the artist continued to work prolifically, though within parameters already set before the War, until the late 1940s, when his eyesight failed. In 1963, two years before his death, the blind artist was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, to some degree bearing out his own description of the career of an artist: first jeers, then sneers, and finally cheers.