Thursday, September 12, 2013

Leon and Sadie Garland at Koehnline Museum

Sadie Garland, 1933

Leon and Sadie at Koehnline Museum, through Sept 20

Social idealism has not been the theme of Chicago pictorial art for several generations, but it came quite naturally in the 1930’s to Leon and Sadie Garland, the children of  Jewish immigrants who met in the art classes at Hull House. 

 Leon Garland, "Jewish Wedding" (detail), 1930's

 Their wedding reception was hosted by  Jane Adams herself,  who would have reaffirmed that transcendent  sense of community that  Eastern European Jews brought with them from the shtetl.  Regretfully,  social idealism also took some  catastrophic turns in that era, so understandably the cult of  individualism has dominated the  “Free World” ever since.  But the idealism of Leon and Sadie was quite benign – indeed they led their lives as remarkably free individuals, moving throughout Europe to study art, and then returning to teach and practice it. 

 Leon Garland, "Hull House", 1930

 Leon’s visions of society are gentle  and a bit folksy, though not too saccharine or mythic.

 Leon Garland, "Chicago near Hull House", 1930's

Leon Garland, "Morgan Street", 1941

 His visions of  some Chicago neighborhoods feel exactly how they still feel to me today – not so much charming as gritty and practical. 

 Sadie Garland, "Boats", 1940

While  Sadie’s urban visions feel  like excuses to make geo-form abstractions that express how much she enjoyed her life.  Both of them show the strong influence of  Andre Lhote in whose Paris atelier they studied.  Lhote practiced a kind of  breezy, decorative  Cubism that celebrated  the light-hearted side of modern life that must have appealed to the Romantic newly weds from Chicago. 

 Leon Garland, "Four Frenchmen", 1930

 Helpfully, David Sokol, the curator, has placed  postcard size reproductions of Lhote’s work right next to similar paintings done by the Garlands. 

 Leon Garland, "Blacksmith", 1940

 Sadie Garland, Jesus Torres and Wife, 1930

 Initially, the Garlands captured his lightheartedness, but like so many artists who depicted the American scene at that time,  there’s a looming darkness and heaviness in their images. Unfortunately, as time passed,  health problems restricted Leon’s activity and Sadie took jobs in social work to support the couple – so there’s a feeling that they did not achieve what they could have.

 The show has  examples of Leon’s talent at commercial graphic design,

 and he did a large,  rambling  painting of ominous children’s toys that prefigures the surrealism of Seymour Rosofsky.  But he failed to develop a  strong, consistent vision, and after his untimely death, Sadie stopped painting altogether.  What they left behind was a window into the lives of two idealistic, talented, brave young Chicagoans in the 1930’s.