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When we casually look for the roots of 20th century Modernism, we look primarily to Europe. Too often we are, as Americans, in the habit of looking to a continent that has claimed itself ”the West.” Perhaps the claim would be benign if it simply described a location, but it has become more than that. For many born in the last century, it stood (as did the location “north”) for all things associated with intelligence, justice, and culture. I’ve observed that North-easterners, like me, ironically cling to our inclusion of this western model. We maintain New York as the point of transfer, noting the many Europeans that came to the United States in search of refuge. Names like Albers, Hoffman, and DeKooning ring out as some of the champions who fit this profile, with the work of Brancusi, a Romanian-turned-Parisian, brought to this country by the eternally influential French immigrant Marcel Duchamp.

Rarely do we further imagine the roots of their roots, what was stolen or lost. We artists of the 20th century have been taught to come east to New York, in order to wrap ourselves into a story of American exceptionalism. For many of us, this city has been a true haven of difference and vitality. At the same time, we receive all too complicated instructions about what to reveal or imagine about the sources and influences on our own work. I like to remember the European story of Modernism was forcibly eclipsed by U.S.-made icons like westerner Jackson Pollock and Pittsburg-born Andy Warhol. My hunch is that we should remember to always look west—to Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles and even further to those cultures we oddly call “the east.”

Excerpt from press release. Full version here.

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