The work of the artist is often thought of as solitary. We picture the painter confronting a blank canvas alone, studio door figuratively shut. Yet few artists thrive in a social vacuum. Even those who prefer to work in private will seek out other artists for myriad reasons: mentorship and inspiration, practical assistance, a sense of solidarity or shared purpose. Artists are often each other’s first and most important audience, providing vital support before critics, curators, and collectors arrive on a scene. Two artists caring about one another’s work is fundamental to the creation of any art “world,” large or small.
Assembled from the museum’s extensive twentieth-century holdings, Artist to Artist features eight pairings: Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Cornell, George Tooker and Paul Cadmus, Loïs Mailou Jones and Elizabeth Catlett, Frank O'Hara and Grace Hartigan, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Bumpei Usui, Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock, Joan Brown and Elmer Bischoff, and Ray Yoshida and Christina Ramberg. Each pairing represents two figures whose trajectories intersected at a creatively crucial moment, whether as student and teacher, professional allies, or ardently close friends. Based in common goals or shared life experience, the personal interactions represented by these works helped shape and sustain American art.
Within this exhibition is "New on View," an ongoing series of installations that place recently acquired artworks—both gifts and museum purchases—in dialogue with works already in SAAM's collection. The featured watercolor paintings by Yayoi Kusama were discovered in 2018 by an archivist working in the museum's Joseph Cornell Study Center and then transferred into SAAM's collection the following year. Two of the four watercolors are displayed at a time in this installation, and it is the first time these artworks have been exhibited.