Kenneth Stubbs
(American artist, 1907-1967)

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"The Higher The Fewer"
Corcoran Could Trim Its Show

We doubt if even the artists will think "the more the merrier" at the Corcoran's Twenty-second Biennial, which opens to the public today after a gala preview last night. "The higher the fewer" is more apt this time. The show contains 271 paintings. From the standpoint of quality and interest it would profit if reduced by about 100. The show is a national event. Like all the others, it has had its ups and downs; but in the main the Corcoran Biennial has enjoyed a high reputation for half a century. Why should its prestige be marred by the kind of compromises apparent in the current issue?

The exhibit represents about a 50-50 ratio between work invited and work submitted in competition. If the reputations of some of the invitees depended on their inclusions here, they would not hold up long. Among the latter, there are many rewarding entries and an encouraging preponderance of new names. But the general effect is of a padded rather than carefully edited display. And the voices raised in unison seem more an echo of the prewar era than of 1950-51.

All told, 1512 paintings were entered; and of these, 836 were seen by the jury in New York, 676 in Washington. Next to New York, the District offered the largest number of entries--201, of which only 18 were accepted. Of the invited, 12 works are by painters of the Washington, D.C., area, 120 selected from New York dealers. To these were added one work by each artist member of the jury and of the Corcoran School faculty.

Of the submissions, 1381 paintings were rejected, 131 accepted. Artists sent in from every state in the Union with the exception of five--Arkansas, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota and Wyoming.

A rejection of work by an artist of the District, Virginia, Maryland, or even Ohio, Pennsylvania and other nearby sections, takes its toll in personal disappointment, but it is in dollars and cents as well that it hits the painter in California, say, or in Texas. He has to stand the cost of transportation both ways, not to mention crating and framing his picture. The high ratio of rejections (in all the big national exhibitions in this country today) gives rise to the question whether the artist might not in fact be better served by some more satisfactory system, perhaps worked out by the art museums on a cooperative basis.

Railroad strikes, the draining of talent for one event to the detriment of another--these may be contributing factor affecting the quality of major national exhibitions from year to year. But aside from these immediate considerations, has not the big competitive national become unworkable, unless it is organized on an elaborate regional basis, like the recent Metropolitan Museum show, or frankly reduced to a competition between the artists with New York dealers?

To return to the show itself, it is strong in individual paintings which reflect the point of view of the jury as expressed by its chairman, Edward Hopper, a veteran painter and revered figure in American art. In his statement, Hopper says in part: "Human association is so inextricably intermingled in all of life, including one's reaction to form, color and design, that it cannot be separated from it, and any attempt to eliminate this human element can result in reflecting only a part of life, and a very limited reaction to it . . . It is doubtful if a conservative tendency of mind ever prevented an artist from fully expressing himself or a radical one aided in increasing his stature. The true academician is the one who has nothing to say, and he may be found using any method, traditional or fashionable. The only quality that endures in art is a personal vision of the world. Methods are transient: Personality is enduring."

In view of the validity of the approach, it is doubly a pity that the jury did not achieve a more consistent, convincing show developed along these lines, without dilution.

Discussing the Clark cash prizes, which proceed from a top of $2000 to honorable mentions, Hopper stressed a point which has often been raised: "If a system of purchases," he says, "could be instituted, that would eliminate the grading according to merit of the prize system and the implication of superiority, a considerable gain would be made in fairness."

Of these prizes, our personal preferences are for Richard Haines' "Prodigal Son," a composition that seems to fill Hopper's bill on all counts, and Philip Evergood's "On the Sunny Side of the Street," more intricate in design and conception, but no less resolved. The prize winners are effectively and dramatically presented on a single long panel in the center of the display. Each represents the work of a pointer of experience, fully in command of his means and objectives.

The show is too big to be taken in all at once, or even on two visits. Among those we recall as having enjoyed particularly:

Isabel Bishop's "Double Date Delayed," Julien Binford's "Table With Cyclamens," Arthur Osver's "Going Up," George Picken's "Blue Steam Shovel," Xavier Gonzalez' "Landscape in Construction," Joseph Hirsch's "Performers," Raphael Glietsmann's "An Incident," Robin Brant's "House Mother," Omar Carrington's "Seascape," Robert Gates' "Garden Procession," Boyer Gonzales' "Arrangement," Sydney Gelfand's "Interior," Morris Kantor's "A Tree Blooms at Night," Thomas F. Meehan's "Behind the Grandstand," Joseph Pollet's "Black Walnuts," William R. Thompson's "Peep," Kenneth Stubbs' "Ponte Vecchio," Joseph Solman's "Interior with Blue Statue," Louis B. Siegrist's "Trees," Kenneth Callahan's "The Search," William Calfee's "Bean Plant," Edgar Ewing's "Arrangement of Old Car," Frank Duncan's "Through the Window," Richard Dempsey's "Across the Alley," Mimi du Bois Bolton's "The Invincible," Alexander Russo's "Era of Transition," Frank di Gioia's "Sea Food," Alton Pickens' figure composition and Joe Summerford's still life.

The exhibit will continue on view through May 13.

Corcoran Winners

  • First W.A. Clark Prize ($2000) and gold medal to: Waiting for the Audition by Raphael Soyer of New York.
  • Second Clark Prize ($1500) and silver medal to: Sunny Side of the Street by Philip Evergood of New York.
  • Third Clark Prize ($1000) and bronze medal to: Prodigal Son by Richard Haines of Los Angeles.
  • Fourth Clark Prize and honorable mention certificate to: Nests of Lightning by Kay Sage of New York.
  • Second honorable mention to: Easter Morning on Eye Street by Richard Lahey of Washington, D.C.
  • Third honorable mention to: House in the Woods by Sidney Laufman of New York.

Jane Watson Crane, Washington Post, Sunday, April 1, 1951, page 3L