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Philbrook Museum of Art opens Models & Muses. Max Weber and the Figure

Philbrook Museum of Art presents Models & Muses. Max Weber and the Figure, an exhibition on view 04.11.2012 – 02.03.2013.

An early cubist and important conduit of avant-garde art to America, Max Weber was a key figure in early 20th century art. After years of struggling against the mainstream tide, Weber would eventually hit his stride and establish his reputation as a prominent leader of American modernism mid-career. Except for a brief period in the nineteen-teens when he focused on scenes of New York, Weber was thoroughly engaged with the figure throughout his long career. This traditional subject underwent many manifestations during Weber’s venturesome career, appearing variously as academic model, primitive exotic, or melancholic muse. This exhibition, the first solo museum show on the artist in twenty years, looks at Weber’s career through the lens of the figure, specifically how this humanitarian and classical subject helped the artist negotiate numerous formal fluctuations in his career from his early cubism to his later form of linear expressionism.

Weber returned to New York from Paris in 1909 and exploded his canvases with colorful, cubist-futurist paintings, much to the disfavor of mainstream critics and audiences. By 1919, his radical cubism began to soften significantly, reflecting a more conservative turn in American art and modernism abroad. With this change came Weber’s concurrent turn inward toward more domestic, humanitarian,

and spiritual concerns. He often fleshed out such concerns with themes including women in interiors, bathers in nature, or increasingly distressed figures in craggy landscapes foreshadowing the coming of World War II.

This exhibition, originated by Philbrook, will trace Weber’s stylistic evolutions as an artist through the medium of figure painting, exploring how the model helped him to negotiate tradition and innovation in his studies and teachings. Furthermore, the exhibition will examine if the figure as muse offered Weber a sort of academic solace or place of refuge during periods of critical disfavor and great social upheaval in America. Bringing together works from public and private collections, as well as from the Estate of Max Weber, the exhibition will spotlight how this immigrant artist, greatly inspired by French modernism, established a solid and inventive voice through figure painting, ultimately becoming an important teacher and insurgent artist during a period around the World Wars.