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Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920–31

September 10 through December 15, 2002

As part of a commitment to build a representative collection of works on paper by twentieth-century artists, the Morgan acquired two major works by the American painter and draftsman Stuart Davis (1892–1964): his earliest known diary, used by the artist between 1920 and 1922, and a sketchbook dated 1926. To celebrate these acquisitions, the Morgan presented Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920–31.

Davis's extensive writings in journals and notebooks, often accompanied by drawings and diagrams, offer crucial insights into his manner of working and constitute a storehouse of images and ideas that served as the point of departure for some of his most ambitious canvases. Of particular interest is the role of drawing, which Davis regarded as the foundation of his art and a primary means of recording sensations and testing ideas.

Purchased on the Young Associates Fund, the Morgan's journal by Davis contains some of the artist's earliest thoughts about color theory and the use of language and signs in painting. Having been in private hands since its creation, this unpublished journal is now available to scholars, and with this exhibition, to the public. Shortly after the purchase of the journal, the Morgan acquired one of the artist's sketchbooks. It was used during the seminal decade of the 1920s. The first example of Davis's draftsmanship to enter the collection, the intact sketchbook comprises seventy-four sketches that chronicle the artist's development of a pictorial language during his early years in New York, out of which evolved his mature style.

This small, highly focused exhibition of twelve works, including both drawings and paintings, examined Davis's journal and sketchbook in the development and implementation of his artistic theory between 1920 and 1931. Accompanying the materials from the Morgan's collection were works from both private and public collections, including that of Earl Davis, the artist's son, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Newark Museum, New Jersey, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Stuart Davis: Art and Theory, 1920–31 is sponsored by the Marilyn M. Simpson Charitable Trust.