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Arthur G. Dove
Arthur G. Dove, 1923
Alfred Stieglitz, American
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 9 7/16 x 7 1/2 inches (24 x 19.1 cm)
From the Collection of Dorothy Norman, 1967
1967-285-49
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Arthur Garfield Dove

American, 1880 - 1946

View Objects By Arthur Garfield Dove >>

And his work brings the shy interior life of things, most often familiar humble things: cattle, old wood, rusty pieces of farm machinery; the things as they perhaps exist for themselves.1

In 1923 Alfred Stieglitz photographed Arthur Dove (1880 - 1946) in front of his recent painting Gear, a close-up, cropped image of a well-used piece of wood and metal machinery silhouetted against a blank light gray ground; it was used as an illustration for the essay on the artist in American journalist Paul Rosenfeld's Port of New York: Essays on Fourteen American Moderns.2 While not particularly typical of Dove's principally nature-based work, Gear was a logical choice as the background for the portrait, because the image is easier to read than the compositions of abstracted natural forms that made up the majority of his work at the time. When Dove painted Gear in about 1922 he had recently emerged from a nine-year hiatus in his work, and he was experimenting with different subjects. Although he did not abandon nature as his principal source of inspiration, in 1921 and 1922 he also painted subjects with titles such as Harlem River Boats, Machinery/ Mowing Machine, Tanks and Snowbank, Lantern, and Gear--themes that seem to respond to his stated quest to achieve heightened reality in his art, as he expressed to Stieglitz in August 1921: "have five or six drawings for paintings that are almost self-portraits in spite of their having been done from outside things. They seem to me more real than anything yet." Dove went on to state his preference for "stronger things" than the beautiful scenery surrounding him in Westport, Connecticut, and he described an image he was working on that resembles (though not exactly) the object he depicted in Gear: "A sluice gate for instance of rusty used iron, warm grey weathered wood . . . which I have been at this morning."3

Machine imagery was hardly unusual in the art of the early 1920s, for the Dada machines of Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia had cast a spell over American artists such as Morton Schamberg, Joseph Stella, Charles Demuth, and others. Dove's Gear has been said by some to be influenced by Dada imagery because of its similarity to Picabia's Machine tournez vite (1916);4 indeed, Dove was interested in Dada, and its effect may be felt in the assemblages he later created in 1924.5 But his straightforward depiction of a mechanical object in Gear--without humor or heroics--seems more logically to be "a response to the critics' appeal for an indigenous art based on the artist's relation to his own locale and the objects of his immediate environment," as Sherrye Cohn astutely put it.6 Moreover, the worn yet commanding presence of Gear falls in line with the thinking of Dove's mentor Stieglitz, who in 1922 was applauded by Sherwood Anderson for his fight "to make machinery the tool and not the master of man."7 Visually, Gear has more in common with the work of Dove's fellow artists in the Stieglitz circle, such as Paul Strand's similarly cropped, close-up views of mechanical objects (though his are shiny, hard-edged tools and mechanisms rather than the softer, weathered machinery in Dove's painting).8 Stieglitz must have particularly admired Gear, not only because he used it in his photographic portrait of the artist, but also because he included it with some of the artist's earlier works in the solo exhibition he presented in 1926 at the Intimate Gallery, which was Dove's first since 1912.9

Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Adventures in Modern Art: The C. K. Williams II Collection (2009), pp. 133-135.

1. Paul Rosenfeld, Port of New York: Essays on Fourteen American Moderns (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1924), p. 171.
2. In a letter to Dove of July 18, 1923, Stieglitz wrote: "There is a full face might be used for the book. The first shot we made with your painting as 'background.' It just misses fire. Is photographically very fine." See Sarah Greenough, Alfred Stieglitz, the Key Set: The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Photographs, vol. 2, 1923-1937 (Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002), p. 508, no. 855.
3. Ann Lee Morgan, ed., Dear Stieglitz, Dear Dove (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1988), p. 75.
4. Jan Thompson, "Picabia and His Influence on American Art, 1913-17," Art Journal, vol. 39, no. 1 (Autumn 1979), p. 21. Machine tournez vite is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
5. On seeing Dove's assemblages in 1926, Katherine Dreier, the American patron of the arts, called Dove "the only American Dadaist." See Francis M. Naumann with Beth Venn, Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York, exh. cat. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1996), p. 207.
6. Sherrye Cohn, Arthur Dove: Nature as Symbol (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985), p. 102.
7. Sherwood Anderson, "Alfred Stieglitz," New Republic, vol. 32 (October 25, 1922), p. 217.
8. Ann Lee Morgan, Arthur Dove: Life and Work, with a Catalogue Raisonné (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1984), p. 49.
9. Dove's 1926 exhibition signaled his official "coming out" after the hiatus that had occurred in his work following his 1912 exhibition at Stieglitz's 291. Between 1912 and 1926 he had exhibited in group shows only occasionally, repeatedly showing earlier work. While there is no checklist of works for Dove's 1926 exhibition at Stieglitz's Intimate Gallery, a review of the show in the New Yorker almost certainly refers to Gear: "The Dove show, fortunately for us plodders, holds many of his best things. . . . the derrick wheel." New Yorker, January 23, 1926, pp. 25-26. The exhibition is known to have included Dove's recent assemblages, but it did not contain only his most recent work. A listing of the exhibition on p. 5 of the same issue of the New Yorker describes the contents of the exhibition as including "some old paintings and some experiments that may shock you."

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