There’s no accounting for taste—and that is literally true in the case of the story of the Stuart Davis mural Swing Landscape. Commissioned by the Works Progress Administration in 1936, the seven-by-fourteen-foot painting was intended to hang in a new public housing project in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York. But for reasons that have never been fully explained—due to an absence of documentation— the vibrantly colored mural with its energetic composition was rejected for display at the site.
The Davis mural ended up going into the collection of the art museum at Indiana University in 1942. Swing Landscape: Stuart Davis and the Modernist Mural, a new exhibition at that institution—now named the Eskenazi Museum of Art—speculates on the reason for the rejection and explores other questions about Davis and this work. Jennifer McComas, curator of the exhibition and editor and chief author of the catalogue that accompanies the show, examines reasons why Davis would have painted Swing Landscape—an abstracted view of the Gloucester, Massachusetts waterfront—for an urban location. McComas also argues against the commonly held notion in art historical circles that, while Davis was deeply committed to progressive reforms, he rarely allowed his art to reflect his politics. The artist admired work “that seamlessly blended vanguard aesthetics and political messages,” she writes. “Davis frequently argued that abstraction was a ‘direct progressive social force,’ and the Williamsburg Housing Project—with its progressive aesthetic and social orientation—offered the perfect environment for him to put his advocacy for modernist public art into practice.”
Swing Landscape: Stuart Davis and the Modernist Mural • Eskenazi Museum of Art, Bloomington, Indiana • to May 22 • artmuseum.indiana.edu