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The Nightstand | August 2014

Katie Robinson Edwards acknowledges on page 5 of her new book, Midcentury Modern Art in Texas, that this state’s modernist art was “greeted neither by elated crowds nor by throngs of reporters.”

In fact, “it was scarcely noticed by the average Texan,” she writes. There was never a “School of Texas Modernism,” and “Texas might have been one of the last states of the Union where a person could expect to find a vital current of modernist painting and sculpture in the mid-twentieth century,” writes Edwards, the curator at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. One criticism no one can make of Midcentury Modern Art in Texas is that it’s boosterish.

But delve a little deeper and a more contradictory insight emerges: that modernism, a movement whose artists were almost desperate to prove the severe newness of their art, found a ready home in Texas, whose freewheeling culture nourished modernism’s independent heart. No one may have paid attention to the scrappy modernist artists in Texas, but that was A-OK with them.

The artists, art patrons, budding gallery owners, and museum curators Edwards writes about also had one another. “The people with money shared it with the people who didn’t have it,” Edwards says. “They were developing a culture.” And they were serious about it. “This is earnest modernism,” Edwards says, adding that she was drawn to write about the topic because any modernist artist in Texas was by nature something of a misfit. “I like the weirdos,” she says, “the ones where I can’t really figure out what they’re doing. These are people who really thought they could better the world and better themselves by making this art. And I find that very moving.”

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A Modernist Primer

Edwards’s expertise isn’t limited to midcentury Texas artists. She’s also written about Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Jessica Stockholder, and Andrew Wyeth, among others. We asked her to reveal some of her favorite books about modernist art and design and why she likes them.

  • Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury, by Elizabeth Armstrong et al.
  • As seen on Noguchi tables worldwide, for good reason.
  • DADA: Zurich/Berlin/Hannover/Cologne/NewYork/Paris, by Leah Dickerman et al.
  • Now you can say “Dada” like you mean it.
  • An Eames Primer: Updated Edition, by Eames Demetrios
  • But of course.
  • American Art Since 1900, by Blanton Museum of Art.
  • Go local, go often.
  • Modernism: Designing a New World, by Christopher Wilk
  • Lavish, serious, delicious.
  • Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art after 1980, 3rd edition, by Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel
  • See what late Modernism hath wrought. (Bonus: Roxy Paine on cover of the 3rd edition.)
  • 50 Bauhaus Icons You Should Know, by Josef Strasser
  • “Shoulds” can be a burden, but we should Bauhaus.
  • Design: The Groundbreaking Moments, by Nina Kozel
  • Another lovely Prestel book to help hook it all together.

Credits

Photo by Leah Overstreet at Scott + Cooner. For more information about Scott + Cooner, see them online.

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