Few American painters have been more articulate than Stuart Davis (1892-1964) about the purposes of their art, yet throughout a long and distinguished career as a champion of American modernism Davis was clearly troubled about the way he should best define his relation to the aesthetic issue that was paramount in his own work and that would become increasingly crucial to the modernist movement in this country—the issue of abstraction. There were moments in his later years—the period in which abstraction came to dominate American painting —when he simply disavowed all connection with abstract art. “I regret that I have long been ‘type-cast’ as ‘Abstract,’” he wrote in 1951, “because my interest in Abstractions is practically zero. Real Abstract art exists only in Academic painting, or in the minds of Art critics, historians and...


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