PORTLAND — The importance of immigrants and their rich creative contributions to America can be seen in the major summer exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art. It is a blockbuster exhibit that shows 75 works by four of the most famous sculptors creating during the period between 1914 and 1945: Gaston Lachaise, Robert Laurent, Elie Nadelman and William Zorach.
Each artist creates monumental works and is important enough to have a solo exhibit. However, their works exhibited together bring out their profound influence in creating the beginning of American modern sculpture.
Before 1914 European artists influenced the art world with their love of Classical Greek sculpture, its sense of serenity, line and form. It viewed the human body as an object of beauty.
Many American artists traveled to Europe to absorb European styles. Paris in the late 1900s became a mecca for an exchange of  creative ideas in painting, sculpture and writing. New ways of expressing oneself emerged in painting and modern sculpture. 
The four artists in this exhibit were born in Poland, Lithuania and France. They all studied in Paris for a time. When they moved to America to live, they brought to America a special view of creativity in their work. They merged the old world with the new world and created a new American style in their sculpture.
“American sculptors broke away from Rodin. They used direct techniques in carving and simplified lines in art with more emotion and freshness in curves. Energy in movement in sculpture is celebrated,” Andrew Eschelbacher, assistant curator of European art at the PMA, said in a lecture on Wednesday. 
“I love sculpture because its three-dimensional quality, form line and volume interest me. My background is in European art and that is why I selected these four artists. They all studied and lived in Paris independently for awhile during the same period. All the artists in this exhibit were interested in a path outside the academic tradition which culminated in a new American Art,” Eschelbacher said in a later interview.
The exhibit is arranged in four areas labeled on the gallery walls:  “A New Past,”  “A New Movement,” “ A New Technique” and “ A New America.” These different areas of the exhibition reveal a progression of growth of sculpture from emulating European styles of the past to developing an authentic American style. In addition, the influences of Folk Art, African art, and Oceanic art can be seen in different works as American artists explored their own style. All works in the exhibit break away from academic classic standards  and unite in a freedom of expression.
There are so many outstanding works in the exhibit that it is hard to pick out a few to focus on, but certainly William Zorach’s “Spirit of the Dance,” a bronze 78 inches in height created in 1933 is the most exciting work in the exhibit. This larger-than-life nude work transcends time. Its clean lines make a bridge between its classic subject matter and modern art in America.
Zorach was a leader in modern American art. This work, rejected at first, helped establish Modern American Art as an authentic style. Its geometric lines, controlled sense of balance, special grace and strong image, reflects not only new American art but transcends time and represents the strength of all women. It is located in the center of the most important gallery in the exhibit and takes your breath away. It establishes the atmosphere of the entire exhibit and is a work that needs space around it.
Other works of significance in the exhibit by Zorach include many members of his family: “Dahlov” (the artist’s daughter) Terracotta (1920), “Mother and Child,” mahogany created in 1922; ”Child on Pony,” bronze created in 1934;”Head” bronze (1930) and “Kiddie Kar” Granite (1930) are significant. Several early drawings by Zorach were in the exhibit. A pencil line drawing of “Spirit of the Dance” is very interesting. It was created after the sculpture, which is located on the grounds of the Zorach home in Maine, was completed. Zorach said in his autobiography, “Art is my life.” “Drawing is a way of seeing.” This exhibit offers many ways of seeing art and that is its great strength.
In the art of Gaston Lachaise we can see his work is: sensual, realistic, emotional, and filled with movement.”Standing Woman,” bronze (1912-27) is a monumental work. A voluptuous woman stands on her toes as if rising from the earth like a Phoenix.The artist has created in this magnificent figure  an amazing sense of motion created in a solid medium of bronze. One of the most outstanding Lachaise works in the exhibit is “Two Floating Nude Acrobats” bronze, (1922). This work is a small gem of perfect proportions that has grace and lyrical beauty. Another example of New American Sculpture created by Lachaise can be seen in “Man Walking”(portrait of Lincoln Kirstein) bronze (1933). Its clean, modern lines, focus on the everyday activity of walking,  and remind one that Americans are always in action. This work does not look posed in the manner of classical art. It reflects the activity of an average man. However, Kirstein was not really an average man. He was one of the great art patrons of New York and founded the New York City Ballet. He also was one of the Monuments Men in World War II who volunteered to hunt for stolen art by the Nazis behind allied lines. 
Robert Laurent, like William Zorach , used direct carving techniques. :Reclining figure,” Mahogany (1935-40) which can be seen in the first gallery as you walk into the exhibit is a wall relief of great beauty. Laurent’s “Hero and Leander,” limestone (1944) is a sensual beauty and does go back to Greek mythology in a modern interpretation. Again Laurent uses the theme of Greek mythology in his modern work “Daphne,” wood (1940). Another outstanding Laurent work is titled “Plant Form,” created with stained fruitwood, circa 1924-28. This work reminds one of the work of Constantin Brancusi with its  simple elegant lines. It certainly establishes Laurent as a leader in Modern American art.
Elie Nadelman’s “Acrobat,” bronze,(1916 ) is an incredible work of unique balance, motion and beauty. Other significant works by Nadelman include: “Head of Woman,”marble,(1920) and “Dancer,”cherry, mahogany, gesso, stain and paint (1921-4), and “The Hostess,” bronze (1928).
Nadelman’s  “Chef Orchestra” shows a balance of American folk art in subject and style in American Modern sculpture. 
It is an outstanding exhibit because their major works are shown, and over two dozen institutions across the nation have loaned works to it. In addition,the exhibit shows that the PMA has some very significant works in its own permanent collection.
This exhibit was organized by  the Portland Museum of Art and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.It will travel to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis Tennessee, October 14 through January 7, 2018 and to the Amon Carter Museum of Art Fortworth, Texas, February 17 thorugh May 13. 
The exhibit catalogue is a collector’s item. The huge photographs are outstanding. Andrew Eschelbacher and Shirley Reece-Hughs ,co-curators of the exhibit, write eloquently in it.
This is an exhibit which merits many visits. You cannot take it all in by seeing it once. Plan to spend the day at the PMA . It is worth a trip into Portland to see it. For info. call (207) 775-6148

A New American Sculpture 1914-1945:
Lachaise, Laurent, Nadelman and Zorach
Portland Museum of Art
May 26-  Sept. 8


Portland Museum of Art hours 
Summer hours start day after Memorial Day
Monday through Wednesday ,10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday ,10 a.m. to 6p.m.
Admission:  Adults, $15; seniors over 65 $13; students with I.D. $10. Free for members and children under 14; free for everyone on Fridays 4 to 8 p.m.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.