“Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California,” on view at the Norton Simon Museum through September 25th, 2017, explores the life of a legendary German émigré who made it her life’s mission to introduce Americans to modern art. To give Scheyer’s foresight and taste context, Gloria Willams Sander, the curator and organizer of “Maven,” has designed the exhibition to include not just works of art from Scheyer’s collection, but also ephemera, including glass slides, brochures and correspondence.
Although Scheyer is best known for her championing of the “Blue Four”—Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky, Paul Klee and Vassily Kandinsky—her 1945 estate included not only rare examples of their art, but also works by 44 other artists and photographers including Imogen Cunningham, Peter Krasnow, László Moholy-Nagy, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. Slightly less than half of the 105 works on view are by “Blue Four” artists, including 17 Jawlenskys, but it is the presence of works outside the circle of the “Blue Four” that offers visitors a fresh and expansive idea of Scheyer’s collecting interests and social contacts.
For example, Peter Krasnow’s 1927 watercolor, “Recalling Happy Memories,”—given to Scheyer by the artist as a gift—depicts Scheyer as she lectures to a fashionable crowd in Schindler’s Kings Road living room, holding a modern painting in one hand and a baton in the other. Another is an attenuated nude by Edward Hagedorn (1902-1982), a reclusive draftsman and printmaker who Scheyer met in the late 1920s in the Bay Area. Scheyer reportedly wanted to add Hagedorn to the “Blue Four,”—which would have then become the “Blue Five”—an offer he apparently declined. A story that deserves telling, “Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California,” is an engaging and thoughtful exhibition that expands and enhances our view of a seminal figure in the history of early Modernism in California.