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Can an artistic form have a nationality? In one sense, of course not. Strictly speaking there is no Italian circle, nor any Romanian triangle. But we can see our art, and comprehend its strivings, in national terms. Lincoln Kirstein, a cultural impresario of great wealth and taste in the 1920s, once remarked that there was  “a national tradition stemming from Europe, but nationally dependent.” He referred most immediately to the work of some of his friends who were intent on developing a national sense of sculpture. One of the sculptors involved in this avant-garde was Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935), whose 1933 “Head,” a bronze bust of Kirstein, depicts a powerful will, embodied in a portrait of a devout supporter of modernism. (He helped George Balanchine father modern ballet.) Lachaise had come to America from Paris to be with the woman whom he would eventually marry, Isabel Nagle. Artists from various places came to flourish in America for many different reasons, intent on a collective approach to new beginnings. Before long, Lachaise had befriended, influenced, and been influenced by three of his contemporaries, all of whom contributed to the American sense of sculpture identified by Kirstein. These three were William Zorach (1887-1966), Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), and Robert Laurent (1890-1970). The four innovative artists are the focus for a revelatory exhibit mounted at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.

More… “A New American Sculpture”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).

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