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Six Must-See Works at the American Art Fair

This past weekend a stop by the American Art Fair (AAF), currently open on the Upper East Side at the Czech Center (6 train to 77th Street: through Nov 19), proved to be stuffed with irreverent juxtapositions. Turning a corner involved moving from a stoic Wyeth to a series of impressionistic studies by Cassatt for her work ‘The Bath’. Prone to a preoccupation of the American landscape, particularly when arriving at the fifth (pre-20th century) floor, the Fair is worth a trip primarily on the merits of its strongest works. Breckenridge and Barnet vie with Bearden for what makes a surreal experience and a solid survey of American art over the past 250-odd years.


My pick for the Top 6 must-see works include…


Balcomb Greene, The King is Blacker than the Queen (1945) Jonathan Boos

Balcomb Greene's The King is Blacker than the Queen

Balcomb Greene’s The King is Blacker than the Queen

A renowned early adopter of abstract art in America, Balcomb Greene is a 20th century artist who, in this work, reduces the painting’s two figures (the supposed subjects of king and queen) to a fragmented series of painted blocks across a flat surface. Eerie and suspenseful, The King is Blacker than the Queen is easily one of the most striking work Boos brings to bear at AAF.


Guy Pene du Bois, Crossroads (date not noted), Questroyal Fine Art, LLC


Guy Pene du Bois' Crossroads

Guy Pene du Bois’ Crossroads

First generation American artist and art critic Guy Pene du Bois depicts a singular female holding herself precariously at a crossroads (of which the symbol of the cross is at the forefront of the image). Furthering the sacrificial imagery, the female is clad all in white and her gaze is pulled outside of the frame for added suspense. Among du Bois’ usual scenes of everyday figures this is an emblematic image that stands out.


Will Barnet, February, 1980, Avery Gallery

Will Barnet's February 1980

Will Barnet’s February, 1980

A textbook case of foreshadowing, Barnet’s monochrome, flat treatment of ominous subject matter is about as American gothic as Edgar Allan Poe. Barnet himself was a chameleon of sorts, but this work is a poignant reference to the ethereal, dreamlike visions he often created in his paintings.


Arthur B. Carles, Portrait of Katharine Rhoades, 1912, Avery Gallery

Arthur B. Carles' Portrait of Katharine Rhoades

Arthur B. Carles’ Portrait of Katharine Rhoades

A (proto-)proto-pop portrait of sorts, Carles’ treatment of colors and his flippant use of light and darkness create the society picture Warhol would have made were he working 50 years earlier. The fun gradient of incandescent purples and blues in the background mirroring the subject’s clothes makes this work especially memorable.


Romare Bearden, Big Sister, 1968, DC Moore Gallery

Romare Bearden's Little Sister

Romare Bearden’s Big Sister

Bearden’s colorful and deceivingly simple collage works evoke homespun tales of memory and intimacy. Often depicting scenes from home or on the streets, Bearden’s fractured and uplifting portraits of everyday American-American manage to be both redolent of folk-art and avant-garde. This work is no exception to the artist’s high quality of both subject matter and style.

Hugh Henry Breckenridge, Moon Shadows, (date not noted), Avery Gallery

Hugh Henry Breckenridge, Moon Shadows

Hugh Henry Breckenridge, Moon Shadows

A potent yet silent image, the side of a house depicts nighttime reflections that are both soothing and transfixing. Gazing at Breckenridge’s treatment of moonlight and the colonial domestic scene, it’s easy to feel lost in the hazy twilight. The light diffuses through the trees onto what must have been a transfixed, modern portrait of contemporaneous American life.


Stop by the American Art Fair while you still can to pick out your own favorite works (or confirm that these are, in fact, the best on view..!)


One Response to “Six Must-See Works at the American Art Fair”
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