The exhibition Jan Matulka: The Global Modernist, which opens at the Georgia Museum of Art on Aug. 27, celebrates the career of one of the most diverse and accomplished painters of the 20th century.
The exhibition of 60 works-dating from 1916 to 1950-reflects a European appreciation for modernism and artistic innovation combined with a political streak that made Matulka a regular contributor to the progressive New Masses publication for several years. He emerged as one of the most pivotal and powerful voices during the beginning of the American Modernist movement and possessed an uncanny ability to understand and assimilate avant-garde developments in progressive painting. Matulka taught at the Art Students League, cultivating the talents of such students as Dorothy Dehner, David Smith and George L.K. Morris.
Matulka’s many subjects and styles coalesced in a signature approach that stressed outlines and diagonals, jaunty and densely packed compositions, and an often florid, vivid palette. Matulka’s best works address four main subjects: landscape, cityscape, still life and abstraction.
A native of Czechoslovakia, Matulka immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17 and came into his own during the years between World War I and World War II. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York before traveling through the American Southwest in 1917 and 1918. Matulka was one of the first modernists to visit the region and turned out several paintings based on Native American themes, including the Hopi Snake dance. During the 1920s, Matulka lived in both New York and Paris, producing several precisionist-style city landscapes. In the 1930s, however, he became more abstract in his work as he focused on bright colors and geometric shapes and forms. He was affiliated with the Federal Arts Project in the 1930s, but his disillusionment from the Great Depression, in addition to other personal factors, caused him to withdraw from the more prominent circles in the art world. He held his last one-man show at the A.C.A. Gallery in New York in 1944, and then never again displayed any current work prior to his death in 1972.
Jan Matulka: The Global Modernist continues the Georgia Museum of Art’s ongoing exploration of American modernism, according to Paul Manoguerra, curator of American art.
“Building upon some of the other traveling exhibitions we have had in recent years, featuring Alfred Maurer, Man Ray and Eugene Berman, among others, this Jan Matulka show helps our visitors understand modernism in its American context,” Manoguerra says.