THOMAS HART BENTON: An American Original by Henry Adams

THOMAS HART BENTON: An American Original

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A mostly successful revisionist view of the midwestern ""regionalist"" whom Harry S. Truman called ""the best damn painter in America."" Even as the ex-President spoke, however, Benton's reputation was sliding toward near-oblivion. Now, with the 100th anniversary of Benton's birth being celebrated with a massive retrospective exhibition and a PBS documentary, Adams--a curator at Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum--attempts a reevaluation of the painter/muralist's place in American art. Adams is laudably straightforward in depicting his subject, who--arrogant, misogynous, and often opportunistic--was not only controversial but downright contentious. Benton insulted Stuart Davis, for example, the first time they met; Davis never forgave him. In treating several areas of Benton's life, Adams displays particular perception. Regarding Benton's lifelong homophobia, for example, the author points out that this trait was largely responsible for some of the artist's most disastrous career decisions: Benton claimed to detect ""pansies"" in just about every museum, gallery, and editorial office he encountered. It was a cabal of these homosexuals, he said, who controlled the art scene in New York; Benton fled that city for the simpler, more ""hetero"" world of Kansas City Predictably, he was soon sniping at midwestern ""pretty boys"" and was fired from his position as instructor at the Art Institute there. Too, in tracing Benton's influence on his most famous student, Jackson Pollock, Adams establishes quite convincingly that Pollock's ""drip"" technique and swooping lines of energy found their source in Benton's The Mechanics of Form Organization, published in 1926-27. An engrossing portrait, refreshingly free of aesthetic jargon.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Knopf