The New York Times
June 21, 2002
45 East 58th Street, Manhattan
Through July 6
Art history is neither fair nor rational, but it is fallible: there is always the possibility of rediscovering an artist undeservedly relegated to the ranks of the forgotten. This exhibition offers the American Modernist James Daugherty as a candidate for historical recuperation. If you go by the Cubist paintings he made during his last two decades, Daugherty's elevation to major league status seems unlikely. That doesn't mean, however, that his case is uninteresting.
Born in 1887 in Asheville, N.C., Daugherty began taking classes at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington as a teenager and went on to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and at the National Academy of Design in Manhattan, with a London sojourn in between. In 1913, the famous Armory Show converted him to Modernism. Influenced by a young American named Arthur B. Frost, an associate of Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Daugherty took up the investigation of color and abstraction and became a significant player in the field of American Synchronism.
In the 1920's, Daugherty went off on another track, earning a living producing murals that reflected trends in American scene and social realist painting; he also wrote and illustrated award-winning children's books. Three decades later, he returned to his first love, abstraction, and he brought to it an undiminished vigor and a willingness to experiment, if not great originality.
In the 50's, Daugherty made flat, grid-based compositions with generously sensuous surfaces. "Abstraction" (1958), a seven-foot-tall canvas with long, slender, vertical bands of richly harmonized color, shows the influence of painters like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Rather than moving toward the greater simplification of 60's Color Field painting, however, Daugherty brought back the Cubist complexity of his early years. An example is his "Abstract No. 9" (circa 1960), a busy, tightly designed patchwork of angular shapes with a crusty, heavily painted surface and an acidic palette of bright reds and yellows set off against cool blues and grays.
There are paintings, too, that hark back to the spinning color wheels of Daugherty's Delaunay-influenced period, like "Simultaneous" (1965). Others, like "Cape Canaveral" (1965), update Constructivism while reflecting contemporary geometric work by Frank Stella and Al Held. Yet others bring in hints of Surrealism in their play with biomorphic shapes. Most unusual of all is the florid "Sagittarius" (1970), in which the artist applied rough spots of color all over a luminous, confectionery composition of circulating line and loopy shapes. The adventurous exuberance of this last painting, made four years before the artist's death, is inspirational.