Groundbreaking work by Michigan painter featured at KIA: Manierre Dawson: Engineering Abstraction

Posted: August 14, 2015

15Dawson AfternoonII

KALAMAZOO, MI--The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts will open Manierre Dawson: Engineering Abstraction on August 29. The exhibition will present 26 paintings, drawings, and sculptures that explore Dawson's formative years from 1907 to 1915.

"Manierre Dawson gave up a promising engineering career to pursue art," says Vicki Wright, Director of Collections and Exhibitions. "He was among the first painters in the world to produce purely abstract work, and is recognized as a pioneer of modern art in America."

Born in Chicago in 1887, Dawson received an engineering degree from the Armor Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), and began working for a Chicago architectural firm. His life was changed profoundly by two events: a five-month trip to Europe in 1910, where he saw and studied great masterpieces of art, and the seminal modern art exhibition, the Armory Show, which was held in Chicago in 1913. Dawson had begun to create "pure" abstractions, perhaps inspired by his knowledge of engineering, as early as 1910, but felt he was alone in his pursuit of a new visual language. The Armory Show, which introduced the modern European styles of Cubism and Expressionism and the work of Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, and Duchamp to American audiences, affirmed Dawson's own modernist tendencies.

Inspired to pursue his painting as a career, Dawson quit his job as an architectural draftsman and moved to Ludington, Mich., in 1914 to run a fruit farm. He married and raised a family. Although the farm work occupied much of his time, he painted and sculpted during his years in Ludington until he moved to Florida in the early 1960s. He rarely exhibited his work until 1963, when the Grand Rapids Art Museum honored him with a retrospective exhibition. Dawson died in 1969.

One of the exhibition's primary works is Afternoon II, a gift from the artist to the Muskegon Museum of Art. Painted in 1913, it was inspired by the works of Marcel Duchamp, which Dawson had admired in the Armory Show. Also included is Mother and Child, one of Dawson's "museum paintings" that he based on Michelangelo's Bruges Madonna, and part of the collection of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.

Lenders to the exhibition include the Illinois State Museum, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Muskegon Museum of Art, the Manierre Dawson Gallery, West Shore Community College, and several private collections in Chicago.

Manierre Dawson: Engineered Abstraction was organized by and premiered at the Muskegon Museum of Art. The exhibition will continue through December 13.

NOTE: Read a review of the Muskegon exhibition in the arts blog, Hyperallergic.


Thursday, September 10: The curator of the exhibition, Jane Connell, Director of Collections & Exhibitions at the Muskegon Museum of Art, will give a Curator's Talk at 6:30 pm. Included with admission.

Tuesday, September 15: West Shore Community College Professor Emerita Sharon Bluhm, is author of Manierre Dawson, Inventions of the Mind, and lives in the former Dawson family home near Ludington. She'll present at the KIA's weekly ARTbreak at noon. Free.