Phosphorescence, Jackson Pollock, 1947
At the Meadows Museum, the recent exhibition Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s told a familiar enough story — America’s turn from European models and immigrant imports to our own bluesy, jazzy, urban, abstract, post-war styles — but it did it with surprising cross-connections and influences.
In England, in contrast, the show is something of a revelation, according to Laura Cumming in the Guardian. But that’s because it’s not a familiar story over there:
Tricolour flags shimmering in the May breeze could be Paris and Pissarro, but are actually Fifth Avenue and Childe Hassam during the First World War, celebrating the Allies. As for the three women drying their hair among the rooftops of Manhattan in 1912, a location familiar from Hollywood action movies, it is the strangest hybrid of Daumier, Munch and Hopper without being like any of them precisely, and an industrial pastoral all its own. John Sloan, the Philadelphia-born former illustrator who painted this urban vision, is renowned in America and entirely unknown, one guesses, in Britain. We think we know American art because we think we see so much of it, but this is something of an illusion too. Outside the Abstract Expressionist displays at Tate Modern and a few US masterpieces dotted round the country, where is the history of American art to be permanently seen? We do have an American Museum, to be sure, but it is committed to quilts.