American modernist artists, together with a group of collectors, dealers, curators, and scholars whose pioneering interest in traditional folk art gave rise to a disciplined branch of study within the continuum of art history, will be the focus of an exhibition opening at the American Folk Art Museum, 2 Lincoln Square (Columbus Avenue at 66th Street), on July 18th, 2015. Folk Art and American Modernism, on view through September 27th, 2015, will shed light on how portraits and paintings, carvings, painted furnishings, hooked rugs and even duck decoys, all made by America’s earliest self-taught artists, influenced American modernist art in the 1920s and 30s, at the same time fostering a new field of discourse in art, and creating a new market. More than 80 works will be on view, organized in groupings around such early 20th century figures as Hamilton Easter Field and Robert Laurent; William and Marguerite Zorach; Juliana Force; Charles Sheeler; Elie and Viola Nadelman; Isabel Carleton Wilde; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; Holger Cahill; Edith Gregor Halpert; Jean and Howard Lipman; and others.

Folk Art and American Modernism is organized by the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

“It is remarkable to see and understand why early American works made by self-taught artists remain bold statements of independence to this day,” commented Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, Executive Director of the American Folk Art Museum. “Were it not for those spotlighted in this exhibition, the field of study that we know as folk art, and the works of art we so treasure, would probably not exist.”

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), an avid folk art collector, called the work of early decorative painters in the US “America’s first abstract expressionism.” French-born, American sculptor Robert Laurent (1890-1970) was fascinated by the carved wings of a duck decoy made by an anonymous self-taught artist. And sculptor Elie Nadelman (1882-1946) found in early American folk art the pure lines and abstracted, streamlined forms that informed his work. Laurent’s, Nadelman’s, and a handful of other artists’ interest in folk art in the early 20th century gave rise to the first documented, public discourse in this area of art history, along with attention from curators who recognized its aesthetic power, scholars who understood its historic importance, individuals who sought to build important collections of this more unconventional American art, and dealers who recognized its value.

Folk Art and American Modernism is organized around these first connoisseurs of early American folk art, in groupings that highlight the paintings, sculpture, and aesthetic objects made by modernist artists who were inspired by this art by the self-taught; and and in groupings of works that were collected by dealers, buyers, curators, scholars and others who recognized its historic and aesthetic value. The exhibition documents how their collective nascent interest grew into today’s established museums and prestigious repositories for study and exhibition of early American folk art.