Featuring More than 40 Paintings and Collages, Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan GrisExplores Gris’s Pivotal Role in Cubism and Innovative Approach to Still Life
The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) and The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) recently announced the co-organization of the first U.S. exhibition in over 35 years dedicated to the Spanish artist Juan Gris. Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan Gris highlights the artist’s pioneering and revolutionary contributions to the Cubist movement by focusing on his fascination with subjects drawn from everyday life. Through more than 40 paintings and collages that span all major periods of the artist’s evolving practice, the exhibition reveals the transformation of Gris’s innovative style and principle motifs from 1912 until 1926, one year before his tragically early death at age 40. His exquisite compositions explored the boundary between abstraction and representation, tension and stasis, color and form. As a thorough examination of Gris’s still lifes, Cubism in Color provides an opportunity to reconsider the legacy of this important yet underappreciated modernist master.
Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan Gris is co-curated by Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art at the DMA, and Katy Rothkopf, the BMA’s Senior Curator and Department Head of European Painting and Sculpture. It will premiere in Dallas from November 8, 2020, through February 14, 2021, and then travel to Baltimore, where it will be presented from March 21 through July 11, 2021. The exhibition will include important loans from international collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; and the Telefónica Cubist Collection and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain, among others.
“It is extraordinarily rare to see so many works by Juan Gris together, particularly in the United States. We are pleased to bring them together for this exhibition to offer a rich and nuanced re-examination of the artist’s important role in a defining art-historical movement,” said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “As the DMA aims to explore new or underrepresented narratives in art history through its exhibitions and programs, we’re excited to introduce our audiences to the life and legacy of this principal figure within Cubism.”
“Juan Gris’s incredible use of and experimentation with color and form reverberate across modern and contemporary art movements. The upcoming exhibition offers a fresh opportunity to examine a daring and deeply accomplished yet lesser-studied artist, providing new insights into the development of Cubism and the evolving narrative of art more broadly. We are delighted to collaborate with the DMA on the creation of this exhibition, and we look forward to engaging our many audiences in the brilliance of Gris’s practice,” said Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director.
Born José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González-Pérez in Madrid, Juan Gris (1887–1927) was one of the primary contributors to the development of Cubism in the early 20th century. Though he was championed by art dealers Daniel Kahnweiler and Léonce Rosenberg and writer and art collector Gertrude Stein, who considered him “a perfect painter,” Gris’s pivotal role within the movement has often been overshadowed by his better-known cohorts Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Fernand Léger. His works are among the movement’s most distinctive and inventive, building upon early Cubist precedents with experimental and exquisite still-life compositions distinguished by their vibrant colors, bold patterns, and a constantly shifting approach. By bringing together more than 40 of Gris’s most distinctive still lifes from major European and American collections, Cubism in Color will reveal the virtuosic range of the artist’s short yet prolific career, illuminating his boundary-pushing contributions to Cubism and his assumption of the role of the movement’s leader in the aftermath of World War I.
Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan Gris begins with Gris’s early paintings, such as Still Life with Flowers, which exemplify Analytic Cubism with faceted shapes and simultaneous viewpoints yet are distinctive in their systematic geometry, crystalline structure, and bright monochromatic palettes. The exhibition then chronicles a series of subsequent stylistic changes in Gris’s practice, starting with his transition to Synthetic Cubism. From about 1913 to 1916, Gris boldly experimented with trompe-l’oeil, collage, and pointillist techniques in increasingly abstract and dynamic compositions characterized by complex geometric patterns and dazzling colors applied in daring and novel combinations, as seen in The Siphon; Guitar and Pipe; Still Life: The Table; Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan; Fantômas; and Newspaper and Fruit Dish.
Gris drastically reinvented his style between 1917 and 1920, adopting a more somber palette, simplifying both his motifs and the geometric structure of his compositions, and seeking a greater fusion of subject and ground. This second phase of Cubism, often called Crystal or Classical Cubism, is characterized by its emphasis on the purity and stability of form and composition. Gris was hailed as the leader of this movement, and his work in this period, such as Still Life with Newspaper; The Sideboard; and Guitar and Fruit Dish on a Table, was crucial to the development of Purism by his friends and fellow artists Amédée Ozenfant and Le Corbusier, in addition to reflecting the general “return to order” among the avant-garde following World War I.
Gris’s late production from 1920 to 1927 demonstrates a renewed interest in rich, vibrant hues and the still life set before an open window, an innovative motif he first introduced to Cubism in 1915 and revisited in works such as Le Canigou; The Painter’s Window; and Mandolin and Fruit Dish. Notable for their harmonious, lyrical quality, these final works embody yet another revolutionary shift in Gris’s aesthetic and approach as he increasingly relied on the geometric, abstract structure of his compositions to determine the still-life components integrated seamlessly within them. A perfect union of what Gris called “flat, colored architecture,” these works are a lasting testament to his constant reinvention of Cubism and the deceivingly simple concept of the still life.
“Gris was a prodigious talent, achieving an incredible body of work in the short period he was active as an artist. Just two years after he started painting, he emerged as a quintessential member of the Cubist group with a distinct style that is remarkable for its extraordinary refinement and rich color,” said Myers. “His great ability to grasp, adapt, and repeatedly transform the Cubist aesthetic makes worthy a deeper consideration not only of his production, but of the role he played in shaping modern art in the first quarter of the 20th century.”
“This exhibition gives us the wonderful opportunity to highlight major works by Gris in both the DMA’s and BMA’s collections, putting them into a new context for the first time in decades,” said Rothkopf. “Seeing how Gris took the same motifs of musical instruments, playing cards, newspapers, bottles, glasses, and table tops and used them in his still-life compositions in different and innovative ways throughout his brief but productive career is extraordinary.”