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Restructured Reality: The 1930s Paintings of Francis Criss


The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts will exhibit Restructured Reality: The 1930s Paintings of Francis Criss, on view February 2 through April 14, 2002. An alumnus of the Pennsylvania Academy, Francis Criss is largely under-recognized today, despite his significant contribution to the American modernist movement of the late 1920's and 30's. Blending Precisionism and Surrealism in a distinct and provocative style, Criss deserves a renewed appreciation and a position among the notable American painters of his time.

Focusing on his most prolific years from 1928 to 1939, the exhibition features 20 of the artist's cityscapes and portraits exemplifying his mastery of the figurative and the abstract, while incorporating an element of fantasy. Restructured Reality is the first exhibition since the early 1930's to address this body of work. Characterized by flat, unmodulated color and simple lines, the featured paintings reveal his signature method of breaking down complex subjects into simple forms. Though his style defies precise categorization, he is often compared to two other Pennsylvania Academy alumni, Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler, who embody the Precisionist movement. Also evident in Criss' psychologically charged subjects is the influence of surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico. (left: Woman with Sculpture, 1930, oil on canvas, Private collection)

Born in 1901 into a Jewish family of Russian descent, Criss was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Barnes Foundation, and the Art Students League. Awarded the prestigious Cresson Scholarship by the Pennsylvania Academy, he continued his studies in Europe and in 1934 was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Italy. Criss seemed poised for success when he was invited to show in the Whitney Biennial Exhibition of 1932, prompting the purchase of his work, Astor Place (1932) for its permanent collection.

Throughout the 1930's and early 1940's, Criss continued to participate in prestigious exhibitions. He was also involved with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and throughout the 1930's participated in major exhibitions of young artists, winning a number of scholarships. A charter member of the American Artists' Congress, organized in 1936, Criss was also a founder of the "American Group" which included Philip Evergood, Jack Levine, and William Gropper. In the 1940s, however, his art career began to suffer as he turned his attention to commercial art and teaching in order to support his family. As a result, Criss painted infrequently for the remainder of his life and his reputation declined significantly until his death in 1973.

The exhibition was organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and is supported by The President's Exhibition Fund. Guest curated by Linda Lichtenberg Kaplan and coordinated by the Corcoran's Dorothy Moss, Assistant Curator of American Art, the show makes its third and final stop at the Pennsylvania Academy following shows at the Corcoran and the Samuel P. Harn Museum at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 6/3/11

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