Meet William Glackens, rock star, at Museum of Art

This is not about William Glackens, painter, portraitist and ghost of lower Las Olas Boulevard. This is about William Glackens, rebel, renegade, rock star. Who knew?

There are about two weeks left to see the major retrospective of Glackens’ paintings, sketches and personal notebooks, drawn from more than 50 collections around the country,  at the NSU-Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, home to the world’s foremost collection of the artist’s work.  The exhibit comes down June 1 for a national tour.

On Saturday,  art historian Elizabeth Kennedy, former curator at the Terra Foundation for American Art in Chicago, will speak about Glackens and the defiant early 20thcentury modernists he ran with called The Eight, whose paintings of urban scenes and day-to-day life marked an important break from the genteel gardens and fruit bowls of the European art establishment.

The Eight, who were friends and among them included several former newspaper illustrators, exhibited together only once, in 1908 at New York’s MacBeth Gallery, one of the few American art dealers of the time, Kennedy says.  The show, by artists the New York Herald Tribune would later call the “angry young men” of their day, caused a sensation.

 “These were eight virile, American male artists painting in eight different styles,” Kennedy says. “They wanted to show how American art didn’t have to represent 19th century academic values or be dominated by European style.”

The art supergroup was led by Robert Henri (“tall, good-looking, articulate…  he was like a rock star,” Kennedy says) and included Maurice Prendergast, Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, George Luks and Glackens.

“They were individualists, and there’s nothing more American than being an individualist,” Kennedy says.

Glackens, who had a studio on New York’s Washington Square, focused his ex-newspaper illustrator’s eye  on life going on around him, and the Museum of Art show includes scenes of parks and streets, as museum director Bonnie Clearwater writes in the exhibition catalogue, “teeming with incident.”

Whimsy, rich detail and a judicious use of color (why is Glackens directing your eye there?) show up in timeless vignettes that anyone who has spent time in New York can admire: The cop hassling a kid in “A Spring Morning in Washington Square, New York” (1910); kids playing baseball in the street in “Far From the Fresh Air Farm” (1911); the pickpocket at work in “Christmas Shoppers, Madison Square” (1912).

Even Kennedy is impressed by the breadth of the exhibit.

“Watching the evolution of Glackens’ artistic body of work is an eye-opener,” she says. “To see him so early, 1908, painting something that’s this blaze of color, when he’s supposed to be in the Ashcan School. … It was like, ‘Wow, maybe we need to step back and rethink what’s going on here.’”

IF YOU GO
Elizabeth Kennedy will discuss The Eight at 2 p.m. Saturday at the NSU Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd. Admission is $10, free for members, students and faculty. To RSVP, email moareservations@moafl.org or call 954-262-0227. More info: MOAFL.org.

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