There’s not always a direct link between what [Stuart] Davis was painting and the world of jazz in terms of subject matter, but I think there always was a connection in the spirit of how he created.”
Robert Ginsburg, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society and the jazz curator at the Walton Arts Center, spoke to artist Stuart Davis’ vibrant style — as it relates to the music that often inspired him — during the opening week of Crystal Bridges Museum’s new temporary exhibition, “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing.”
In Full Swing’
WHEN — On display through Jan. 1. WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville
COST — $8/nonmembers; free/ members and under 18
INFO — 418-5700, crystalbridges.org
BONUS — Visit the Crystal Bridges website for a full schedule of jazz programming surrounding the exhibition.
The exhibition, some 86 works from across five decades of the Philadelphia painter’s career, demonstrates Davis’ artistic vocabulary of bold color and abstract form. Though he was at the forefront of bringing French avant-garde art to America, his work could often not be confined to any one “-ism” of the time: Instead, he would incorporate many different elements into his art while putting his own spin on all of them. Tromp l’oeil details, Pop art (before there was Pop art), Cubism, his own style of abstraction, wording, composition, depth of field, humor — Davis experimented with it all.
“He doesn’t think of his works as abstract; they’re all rooted in places and things,” said Harry Cooper during a media preview of the exhibition. Cooper is the senior modern art curator at the National Gallery of Art, where the exhibition was organized.
Though he experimented with styles, Davis was meticulous about planning the work through drawings before he got to the canvas. That is, until he got to the canvas. “The idea of having planned everything but at the same time allowing room for mistakes, and then to turn those into improvisations takes a page from the jazz playbook,” Cooper said.
In the ’40s, Davis comes to what really makes him unique, added Margi Conrads, director of curatorial affairs at Crystal Bridges. “He starts looking back to previous work to see what he can pull forward.”
In the chronology of the exhibition, the viewer begins to see elements from Davis’ early works like wording and references to pop culture, as well as more series where he creates variations around the same subject — just as a jazz musician or composer might create variations on a theme.
“There’s probably three fundamental connections” to jazz music, Ginsburg shared. “One would be getting inspiration for the visual aspects [from] where the music occurs and the musicians that create it. Another could be considered the spirit of the music — it’s improvisational music; it requires a knowledge of the form, and yet it leaves room for spontaneity. And then the other way is just how the music actually is structured. So Davis’ art sort of ran a parallel life to jazz, and I think it’s going to be fun to have activities that kind of fill in around the visual aspects of it.”
In partnering with the Northwest Arkansas Jazz Society for much of the programming surrounding the exhibition, Crystal Bridges will give guests the opportunity to build even more connections between Davis and jazz music, but also between the art and their own understanding of both mediums.
“When you combine the senses in a way that reinforces the artistry, you really have something, and Crystal Bridges has done a great job of doing that,” Ginsburg said of the educational, musical and lecture programming that will bring together the museum and the Jazz Society.
“That’s one of the great things about this collaboration,” Ginsburg said. “We are creating an opportunity where there’s doors from different disciplines that can actually be open to help gain an appreciation for something that you may not have even had an interest in before. Music can sometimes open the door to understanding visual art and vice versa — just as Davis was inspired by the sound of jazz, and it was reconfigured into a visual form.”
Print Headline: Jazzed Up!