For some reason, John D. Graham is never mentioned among the giants of the abstract expressionist movement. Born Ivan Gratianovich Dombrowsky in Kiev in 1886, he had been a lawyer and a decorated veteran of World War I before he was imprisoned as a counterrevolutionary during the Russian Revolution. He eventually fled to Poland before settling in America, renaming himself John Graham upon becoming a citizen. In this country he immersed himself in the Ashcan School. Eventually, he organized Jackson Pollock’s first showing in New York.
The Amon Carter Museum seeks to restore Graham to his rightful place in art history through the new exhibition American Vanguards: Graham, Davis, Gorky, de Kooning and Their Circle, 1927-1942, which opens this weekend. The show displays Graham’s work alongside the artists whom he mentored, including the jazz-influenced Stuart Davis and the surrealist Armenian expatriate Arshile Gorky. (Graham, Davis, and Gorky were such close friends that they earned the nickname “The Three Musketeers.”) In addition, there are paintings by Edgar Levy, Lee Krasner, and Graham’s own mentor, Jan Matulka. Under the influence of the abstract expressionists, America would come to dominate the art world in the decades following. The Carter’s exhibit can show you how all that got started.