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Rainy day ‘Bathers’

AAC, Saer offer up watercolors.

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'BATHERS': Charles Pendergrast's take on display at the Arts Center.
  • 'BATHERS': Charles Pendergrast's take on display at the Arts Center.
It turns out that a rainy Sunday is the perfect time to visit the Arkansas Arts Center. The angled roof of the Jeannette Rockefeller and Wolfe galleries magnifies the sound; Easter’s torrent was pleasantly deafening, blocking out the noise of the other visitors, who were surprisingly numerous for such a dreadful day for getting out, and creating a perfect intimacy for looking at the works in “Masters of American Watercolors, Part 1.” The collection, spanning the first half of the 20th century with a couple of 19th- century landscapes thrown in for reference, is meant to illustrate the development of American painting out of European cubist traditions and to foreshadow the uniquely American abstract expressionism movement of the last half of the century. That’s all very interesting, but you don’t have to care about how the angular and precise lines of anti-mechanical Europeans came to illustrate the American pride in technological progress to enjoy the exhibit. Still, there’s no harm in following the works by chronology to see how individual American artists responded to the liberating New York Armory Show in 1913. Maurice Prendergast’s “Bathers” (1919-1920), painted just a decade or so after Paul Cezanne’s “Bathers,” removes the architectural elements from the nudes and lets a controlled but flowing outline suggest dimension and tension in the bodies and tree trunks. Prendergast’s beautiful calligraphic strokes, which move from thin to wide, around white space set up a modern tension between flat and dimensional. A 1923 New York street scene by Jerome Myers depicts real people, rather than idealized nudes, and captures a period in history, a slice of life, with a light touch. The watercolors — all from the Arts Center’s own collection — include many small sketches, including pages from a sketchbook of Arthur Dove’s, a two-inch Maurice Golubov study in black ink, a four-inch abstract by Fannie Hillsmith, a seven-inch cubist gouache by Blanche Lazelle and two small 19th-century landscapes that themselves illustrate old and new ways of looking at the world and use of the brush. The Doves show the artist playing with abstraction as created by line and transparency and form and opacity. Get nose-close to these pictures and imagine them large and you’ll see the antecedents of the later years’ huge abstract expressionist canvases. Works not to miss: Adolph Gottlieb’s “Pictograph” (1948), whose hourglass and triangular lines were repeated in so much of the decorative art in the 1950s; Charles Burchfield’s “Burning Muckland” (1929), a larger watercolor that features an abstracted landscape of a smoldering field under a low horizon (an unpainted area in the midst of the field delineated by black brushstrokes is, it’s hard to say why, the most amazing part of the picture); and George Overbury “Pop” Hart’s “Picnicking on the Lake” (1926), which looks like collage at a distance because of the difference in the way he depicted figure and background. Also, Will Barnet’s “The Artist’s Father Resting” (1939), which, in its depiction of a man sleeping in his sock feet on a brown couch, is a long way from Manet’s “Olympia,” and surprisingly familiar to this writer, who left her daughter in the same position on a couch at home. Barnet’s subject is a regular guy getting a well-earned rest. The show runs through April 10. Ashley Saer’s watercolors and paintings done during eight weeks in France will be on exhibit for two days — April 5-6 — at the River Market’s third-floor multipurpose room. Saer’s work includes paintings inspired by a small owl she found in a piece of King Cake she enjoyed at the arrival of her visit to Lacoste in Southern France, and abstract works inspired by the surrounds of the 15th-century village. The owls are, yes, whimsical, but they are nevertheless a real experiment in color and composition — Saer combines the painted owl with “blind” drawings in pencil in some of the works, for a nice visual shakeup. Her use of color in the watercolors is adept; and some smaller landscapes that combine spots of color with abstracted strokes would not be out of place in the Arts Center’s “Masters” exhibit. Saer will be present during exhibition hours, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, which will feature French food, drink and music, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Baum Gallery on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a day of special events Thursday, April 7. The Friends of the Baum Gallery will pay special tribute to the philanthropy of Charles and Nadine Baum, whose gift created the gallery and has supported it since. Sally Baum Frick, the Baums’ daughter, will be a special guest. A tour of the exhibitions and a gallery retrospective will be at 11 a.m., the UCA Concert Choir and recipients of Baum Music Scholarships will perform at 1 p.m., the Baum family will be recognized at 2 p.m., and an opening reception for the Juried Senior Art Exhibit will be held at 4 p.m. At 6 p.m., Dr. Howard Risatti will give the keynote address for the 2005 Arkansas College Art History Symposium.

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