George L. K. Morris
Munition Factory, 1943
Oil on canvas
25 x 17 inches
Signed and dated lower right; signed, titled
and dated on the verso
George L.K. Morris devoted his career to avant-garde painting and sculpture. After studying with Kenneth Hayes Miller and John Sloan at the Art Students League in New York, he traveled to Paris in 1929 and 1930, where he became immersed in studying abstraction. At the Acadèmie Modern, he studied with devoted adherents to abstraction Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant. By the mid-1930s, his work bore almost no traces of figuration.
Among his extensive network in New York was Albert Eugene (A.E.) Gallatin – his distant cousin – whose substantial collection of modern art became the foundation of the Museum of Living Art at New York University. Gallatin named Morris a curator of the museum in 1933. Together with Charles Green Shaw and Suzy Freylinghuysen (who married Morris in 1935), the four became known as the “Park Avenue Cubists,” based on their shared artistic style and similar social status.
Morris was also deeply involved in art writing and criticism. He and Gallatin were among the founders of the Paris-based journal Plastique, to which Hans Arp also contributed. He was involved in the creation of the Partisan Reviewand was the first author of its “Art Chronicle” column, which in later years was continued by Clement Greenberg and Robert Goldwater.
In 1936, Morris co-founded the American Abstract Artists (AAA), an organization aimed to distinguish abstract, non-representational art from expressionism, realism, surrealism, and other artistic currents of the era. The first annual AAA exhibition took place in New York in 1937; together with thirty-eight other American artists, Morris revolted against the domination of representational in American art. Morris served as president of the AAA from 1949-1951. While his formal training was completed at the Yale School of Art and the Art Students League, Morris was most informed by his exposure to the Cubist artists of Paris. Morris was committed to the principles of abstraction and worked to overcome resilience to the movement with his dynamic works of art. Defending the legitimacy of his style, Morris later stated, “While on the subject of technique I might paraphrase Ezra Pound (“poetry should be at least as well written as prose”) and suggest that abstraction should be at least as well painted as realism” (George L.K. Morris, George L.K. Morris: A Retrospective Exhibition, October 5-30, 1971, New York: Hirschl and Adler Galleries, 1971).
During World War II, Morris strove to convey the urgency of the conflict in his own abstract idiom. He succeeded in a series of paintings that incorporate recognizable elements, an important exploration of the power of figuration as a means of social commentary. Munition Factory, and other works with titles that reference the war, such as House to House Fighting(1943) and Night Bombing(1942), were included in a 1944 exhibition of wartime abstractions at the Downtown Gallery. These works reflect the insistency that compelled many artists to examine the war during these years. In Munition Factory, the asymmetrical structure and the fractured elements reflect the upheaval and uncertainty of the period.