Organized by AXA Gallery in New York
Justin Spring, Curator
Fairfield Porter, a 20th century painter who produced Intimist-inspired Realist works in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement, was hailed by John Ashbery in 1983 as “perhaps the major artist of this century.”
This exhibition, curated by the author of a seminal biography of Porter, which is being published simultaneously by Yale University Press, presents his paintings in the context of his life as an artist, art critic, poet, and political intellectual, as well as a husband, father, and friend.
Of all American painters of the late-20th century, no one has created more significant images of family and home than Fairfield Porter. This exhibition of 75 works assembles the most revealing images of Porter’s home life, as well as portraits of family and friends—including individuals who have since become the foremost literary, artistic, and intellectual figures of their generation. Letters, drawings, and photography supplement the paintings in the exhibition, giving a greater sense of Porter’s environs, particularly his remarkable home in Southampton, Long Island, and his family’s island, Great Spruce Head, in Maine.
Drawing extensively on Porter’s correspondence, poetry, critical writings (for Art News and The Nation) sketchbooks, notebooks, and paintings, and relying on interviews with many members of his circle from 1931 to 1975, the exhibition follows Porter’s wealthy upbringing; his education at Harvard; his youthful travels in Europe and Stalinist Russia; his marriage to poet Anne Channing Porter; his involvement with Marxism and socialism; and his work as a painter and critic in New York from the late 1930s until his death in 1975.
Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art also explores, in visual terms, his association with major figures of the Modernist American movement, both artists (his brother Eliot Porter, Alfred Stieglitz, John Marin, Willem de Kooning, and Alex Katz) and poets (John Wheelwright, Kenneth Rexroth, Frank O’Hara, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning James Schuyler, who lived with the Porters for over a decade). Both the biography and the exhibition present Porter as a fascinating, talented, but troubled man who lived a politicized, bohemian life, and struggled to raise a family of five (including an autistic son) while dealing with a bisexual identity. Ultimately, the exhibition is a celebration of his achievements as a painter and critic who triumphed only in late middle age.
Twenty-five years after his death, Porter’s intellectual achievements remain highly regarded within the art world but little known outside it. His extraordinarily intimate paintings, however, continue to have a wide-ranging and immediate appeal to viewers across the country. This exhibition of Porter’s life story brings his visual and written work together for the first time. Porter’s paintings have an immediate emotional appeal and explain in visual terms why his greatest achievement was, first and foremost, as a painter.
NUMBER OF WORKS: 75
TOUR DATES: October 2002 - January 2004
SUPPORT MATERIALS: Publication, Yale University Press, 1999