Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

November 1, 2007 to February 7, 2008
Exhibited at the Archives’ New York Research Center

An abstract artist and a passionate advocate of abstraction in America, Charles Green Shaw seemed to live a charmed life. Born into wealth, he reveled in the glamorous social scene of New York in the 1920s. After a successful career writing about that scene for such magazines as The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, he threw himself into painting in his late thirties. The visual rhythms of New York City were the inspiration for his art.

Shaw explored his delights and his passions through a variety of professions: satirical journalist, painter, defender of avant-garde art, children’s book author, and poet. The Charles Green Shaw papers, 1874-1979, donated to the Archives of American Art in 1974, narrate the artist’s journey. More than 50 boxes of journals, letters, sketchbooks, manuscripts, and poems illustrate Shaw’s development as an artist, which paralleled the growth of the New York art scene in the 20th century.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Abstract sketch

Abstract sketch, ca. 1940

Creator: Charles Green Shaw

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Twilight

Twilight, between 1935 and 1969

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Reproduction of Masked harlequin by Charles G. Shaw

Reproduction of Masked harlequin by Charles G. Shaw, 1947

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Statement

Statement, 19--

Creator: Charles Green Shaw

Shaw remained flexible in his definition of art, but he always maintained that the concept preceded the product. For him, this usually resulted in abstraction.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Cole Porter, Paris, France letter to Charles Green Shaw

Cole Porter, Paris, France letter to Charles Green Shaw, 1926 March

Creator: Cole Porter

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Drawing of George Jean Nathan by Charles Green Shaw

Drawing of George Jean Nathan by Charles Green Shaw, ca. 1920

George Jean Nathan was a theater critic and co-founder, along with H.L. Mencken, of the magazine The American Mercury, to which Shaw contributed satirical essays. Shaw and Nathan were also close friends. This portrait was Shaw?s first serious art endeavor. His journal entries frequently refer to its progress.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

John Graham, Brooklyn, N.Y. letter to Charles Green Shaw

John Graham, Brooklyn, N.Y. letter to Charles Green Shaw, 1938 January 24

Creator: John D. (John Dabrowsky) Graham

Shaw?s first solo exhibition garnered attention from the Russian-born modernist painter John Graham. In this letter, Graham writes: ?I appreciate the subtlety of your work and the innovation of cut lines.? Later, Graham sent Shaw his book System and Dialectics of Art (1937), which was an important influence in the development of abstract art.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Photograph of the construction of Wrigley building with a pack of Wrigly's gum

Photograph of the construction of Wrigley building with a pack of Wrigly's gum, between 1920 and 1924

On this photograph of the skyline and a giant Wrigley advertisement, Shaw noted: ?idea for montage.? The resulting 1937 painting is a precursor of the Pop art movement of the 1960s.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Are You a New Yorker? questionnaire

Are You a New Yorker? questionnaire, ca. 1926

Creator: Charles Green Shaw

In 1926, Shaw wrote a series of quizzes for The New Yorker that demonstrated his command of New York architecture. The column was widely popular, and Shaw kept many of the letters from readers who either enjoyed the quiz or were quick to point out errors.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

"Recent Paintings by Gallatin, Morris and Shaw", 1939 Jan. 16-Feb. 8

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

It Looked Like Spilt Milk

It Looked Like Spilt Milk, 1947

Creator: Charles Green Shaw

In this book for children, Shaw uses simple sentences and even simpler pictures to create a guessing game that urges children to use their imaginations when looking at the world around them. Shaw?s white-on-blue illustrations recall the amoeba-like shapes that appear in some of his 1940s paintings.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Dorothy Canning Miller, New York, N.Y. letter to Charles Green Shaw, New York, N.Y.

Dorothy Canning Miller, New York, N.Y. letter to Charles Green Shaw, New York, N.Y., 1956 October 9

Creator: Dorothy Canning Miller

Once ignored, by the 1950s American abstract art was no longer considered controversial. In 1956, the museum that once rejected Shaw and his fellow abstractionists purchased a Shaw painting for their permanent collection.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

Stipple Green

Stipple Green, 1967 Aug. 20

Creator: Charles Green Shaw

During the late 1960s, Shaw returned to simple geometric shapes. However, these later paintings are more severe in form, with a reduced color palette and a simplified arrangement of lines.

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Manhattan Modern: The Life and Work of Charles Green Shaw

How Modern is the Museum of Modern Art?

How Modern is the Museum of Modern Art?, April 15, 1940

Creator: American Abstract Artists

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