Archibald Motley Paintings Revel and Reveal in Jazz Age Modernist

The joint is jumping at the Whitney, where “Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” has just started playing.

Motley was born in New Orleans in 1891 and, like the jazz movement itself, migrated to Chicago, the city with which he is most closely identified. After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, he reached Paris on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1929, following in the footsteps of Sidney Bechet, Josephine Baker and Langston Hughes. These were just a few of the many African-American artists who pursued that route, beneficiaries of the Harlem Renaissance and the “New Negro” movement and grants from the Guggenheim, Rosenwald and Harmon foundations.

Motley was a protégé of George Bellows, under whom he studied at the Art Institute in 1919, and it is instructive to descend a flight at the Whitney to compare teacher and student while at the same time noting the resemblances to the work of W.H. Johnson, another African-American artist in Paris, and works by Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh.

This is not the melancholy, dark blues of Langston Hughes but a revel in Harlem (or Montparnasse, more likely, if the white woman is dancing with a black man). The composition echoes not just the crowded figures of Bellows but some important French sources as well. It is as complex as the outdoor dance scenes at the Moulin a la Galette by Renoir and Picasso. Nothing in the show has as much life as this panoramic dance floor scene.

By Charles A. Riley II. Click here to read the full review. Hamptons Art Hub is an online publication revealing art from The Hamptons, New York City, South Florida and beyond. Expect to find reviews, news, events, artist profiles and more.

“Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist” continues to January 17, 2016 at the Whitney Museum of American Art.