Between the two World Wars, Philadelphia was, in many ways, brilliantly ahead of its time—Leopold Stokowski inspired the Philadelphia Orchestra to produce the world-famous Philadelphia Sound, Dr. Albert C. Barnes shocked critics with his collection of modern European art, and the PSFS building soared above Market Street to become one of the first fully modern skyscrapers. The Philadelphia artist Earl Horter (1880-1940) was at the center of this excitement. Mad for Modernism: Earl Horter and His Collection will reconstruct and tell the story of his important collection of European and American modern art, African sculpture, and Native American artifacts, as well as delineate Horter himself as an artist. Largely assembled during the 1920s and dispersed before Horter's death in 1940, his collection reveals the dynamic and creative energies at work among a circle of contemporary artists and their friends in Philadelphia during the 1920s and '30s. Organized by Innis Howe Shoemaker, The Audrey and William H. Helfand Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, the exhibition will reunite approximately 100 of the finest works from Horter's extensive collection. It will include some 50 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints by the seminal European figures in early modern art such as Picasso, Braque, Duchamp and Brancusi, as well as Horter's American colleagues such as Charles Sheeler and Arthur B. Carles. A group of 20 African sculptures and Native American artifacts represent other important components of Horter's collection, and the exhibition also surveys Horter's own career in 30 works of art. Mad for Modernism will be on view from March 7 through May 16, 1999, in the Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Scholars of modern art often encounter Horter's name, for it appears in the individual histories of many famous works of modern art, from Picasso's Portrait of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (1910) now in The Art Institute of Chicago, to Duchamp's Nude Descending the Staircase, No. 1 (1911) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to Charles Sheeler's Church Street El (1920) in the Cleveland Museum of Art. However, nearly all knowledge of the distinction and character of Horter's collection as a whole has been lost; as early as 1931, the collection began to be dispersed as a result of the artist's financial reverses during the Depression. Reassembling these works for the very first time, Mad for Modernism will close a long-recognized gap in the history of collecting modern art in the United States. The exhibition will reveal a stunning assemblage of modern masterpieces that was remarkable for its time in its clear focus upon the best and most "difficult" (i.e., intellectually challenging) examples of Cubist and Precisionist art. Such works were largely shunned by American museums and collectors (with the exception of a small group of visionaries such as Walter and Louise Arensberg) in the early decades of the century. Incorporating examples of Horter's collection of African sculpture, which he formed with the advice of the French dealer Paul Guillaume and the redoubtable Philadelphia collector Dr. Albert Barnes, and a selection of Horter's extensive collection of Native American artifacts, the exhibition will recreate the eclectic, yet intensely focused intellectual flavor of a collection formed, not by a man of wealth, but by an artist who was himself a committed modernist. One goal of the exhibition is to demonstrate the particular character of this practicing artist's collection, and to place it in its appropriate context among other important collections of modern art formed during the same decades.
One gallery in the exhibition will be devoted to a representative selection of Horter's own work, including commissions executed for the Philadelphia-based advertising firm of N.W. Ayer, where he served as a highly successful art director between 1917 and 1923; accomplished realist etchings and aquatints, for which he was known throughout his career; and some of his impressive modernist drawings and paintings, several of which show the influence of his collection. Photographs and documents pertaining to Horter's career as a collector, artist, and teacher will also be included in the exhibition.
Born in Germantown, PA, in 1880, Horter demonstrated early talent as an artist, but never received academic training. While still in his teens, he found employment as a copper-plate engraver for stock certificates. In 1903, Horter moved to New York to work with Calkins and Holden, an advertising agency, and soon joined an etching class. In 1916, Carl Zigrosser (who later became the Museum's first Curator of Prints and Drawings) selected Horter for a solo exhibition at the gallery of Frederick Keppel and Co. in New York. Horter returned to Philadelphia in 1917, where he worked for N.W. Ayer. With the help of Philadelphia architect Paul Cret (the designer of the Rodin Museum and The Barnes Foundation), he transformed a Victorian brownstone on Philadelphia's fashionable Delancey Street into a modernist home complete with a studio and rooms to display his collection.
Horter was both teacher and friend for a generation of artists with connections to Philadelphia. He taught at a number of local art schools, including the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts), the Graphic Sketch Club (now the Fleisher Art Memorial), and the Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art, and maintained close friendships with other artists and collectors such as Arthur B. Carles, Franklin Watkins, Carroll Tyson, S.S. White, and Leopold Stokowski, among others.
The Pennsylvania Museum (now the Philadelphia Museum of Art) exhibited Horter's collection in 1934, although a number of important works had already been sold to help relieve the artist's growing financial strains. Horter remained in Philadelphia until his death in 1940.
Mad for Modernism: Earl Horter and His Collection is made possible in part by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts, The William Penn Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by a gift from Charles K. Williams II. A fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. It will include descriptive entries and scholarly essays by Ms. Shoemaker and Christa Clarke, Research Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and William Wierzbowski, a specialist in Native American art, as well as the first complete published checklist of Horter's collection of modern art.