AXA Gallery

New York, NY



Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art

March 22 - May 27, 2000


Through May 27, 2000, the AXA Gallery (formerly the Equitable Gallery) will present a major exhibition on the work of the American painter, art critic, and poet Fairfield Porter (1907-1975). Guest curated by Justin Spring, author of the acclaimed biography Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art (Yale University Press), the exhibition, of the same title, features more than 40 paintings, watercolors, and drawings on loan from museums and private collections throughout the country. Taken together, the exhibition and biography offer a major critical re-evaluation of Porter's life and work.

As a painter, Fairfield Porter forged a distinctly American vision out of two disparate styles: the first--intimate, sensual and representational; and the second--colorful, gestural and abstract. Porter's broad knowledge of art history and theory informed not only his art criticism but his painting as well. His work as a writer and painter is, according to Spring, best considered as a single lifelong project in which he perpetually sought to define for himself his relation to the world. (left: Calm Morning, 1961, oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 36 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Arthur M. Bullowa, 1993, Copyright © 1995 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

More than any other American painter of his generation, Fairfield Porter poignantly defined the look and feel of everyday, domestic life. "Perhaps no other American artist of the twentieth century has created such hauntingly intimate images of family and home as Fairfield Porter," writes Justin Spring. "Certainly few other artists of this century have possessed such extraordinary intelligence."

Porter's distinct approach to painting drew from his love of French Intimism (especially the work of Edouard Vuillard) and the New York Abstract Expressionist school. His great hero in this group was the painter and friend Willem de Kooning. Choosing as his subjects those places and homes to which he felt most deeply connected and those people with whom he had close, and often complex, relationships, Porter produced a body of work of tremendous personal significance and emotional power. The full impact of these paintings can now be more clearly appreciated in the context of the artist's life. The exhibition examines the ways in which Porter's paintings are in fact intimately biographical.

Porter was also one of the most well-informed and articulate art critics of the 1950s and '60s. The work of a highly educated and well-traveled intellectual, Porter's critical writings on art have remained among the most important interpretations of their time.

Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art traces Porter's early influential relationships with art historians and artists, including Bernard Berenson, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Rosenfeld, John Marin and Thomas Hart Benton. The exhibition also examines the ways in which Porter's painting was inspired by his lifelong passion for poetry and philosophy. He was especially influenced by the work of poets T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, John Brooks Wheelwright, Kenneth Rexroth, Edwin Denby, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and finally his wife, Anne Porter, whose book, An Altogether Different Language: Poems 1934-1994, was a finalist for the 1994 National Book Award in poetry. (left: July, 1971, oil on canvas, 100 x 80 inches, Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, Museum Purchase, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. R. Crosby Kemper)

To accompany the AXA Gallery exhibition "Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art," Yale University Press has published a catalogue of the same name, authored by Justin Spring. The 1999 catalogue contains 408 pages,35 b/w and 24 color illustrations. ISBN 0­300­07637.

Yale University Press says of the catalogue: "Drawing extensively on Porter's correspondence and on interviews with members of his circle, Justin Spring chronicles Porter's upbringing in a wealthy family; his education at Harvard; his youthful travels in Europe and Stalinist Russia; his marriage to Anne Channing Porter, a poet; his work as a painter and critic in New York; and his association with major figures of the American modernist movement, both artists (Alfred Stieglitz, John Marin, Willem de Kooning, and Alex Katz) and poets (John Wheelwright, Kenneth Rexroth, Frank O'Hara, and, finally, James Schuyler, who lived with the Porters for over a decade). Spring presents a balanced picture of Porter as a fascinating, talented, but troubled man who lived a politicized, bohemian life, struggled to raise a family of five while dealing with a bisexual identity, and triumphed only late in life as a painter and critic...Twenty-five years after his death, Porter remains highly regarded within the art world but little known outside it...This absorbing biography will give him the public recognition he so richly deserves."

Judith E. Stein, reviewing Spring's catalogue in the Philadelphia Inquirer, said in a February 6, 2000 article, "For most of his life, Fairfield Porter made unfashionable paintings. Abstraction captured the attention of the art world after World War II. Yet the independent-minded Porter stubbornly concentrated on the people, places and things that made up his daily life. In his last decade - he died at age 68 in 1975 - he began to enjoy a degree of critical acclaim and commercial success. Today, he is widely revered as a major American artist."

Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art was organized by the AXA Gallery, which is sponsored by AXA Financial, Inc. and its subsidiary The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States.

See our earlier article: Fairfield Porter at the Neubgerger Museum of Art, the Parrish Art Museum's four online Porter images from its collection, and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art's page on Porter's papers.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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The Equitable Gallery has changed its name to the AXA Gallery, following the name change of The Equitable Companies, Inc. to AXA Financial, Inc. That name change took place in September 1999. The AXA Gallery presents works from all fields of the visual arts, including exhibitions originating outside of New York that would not otherwise have a presence in the city, as well as works from New York collections that would benefit from preservation and public presentation.

The AXA Gallery is located in the atrium lobby of Equitable Tower, 787 Seventh Avenue at 51st Street in New York City, 10019. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, II a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.

Admission is free.(information as of 3/00)

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