Lisa N. Peters
Among American Precisionists, Edmund Lewandowski (1914-1998) is less well known than such artists as Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ralston Crawford, George Ault, and Niles Spencer. Yet, Lewandowski not only held a significant position in Precisionist painting in the 1930s, showing in that decade alongside Sheeler, Spencer, and O’Keeffe at New York’s important Downtown Gallery, but he was also the artist who explored the aesthetic of the movement for the longest span of time, continuing to create celebratory views of industrial, urban, and rural subjects until his death in 1998. The neglect of Lewandowski is now being corrected with the start of the artist’s first retrospective entitled Edmund Lewandowski: Precisionism and Beyond, which has been organized by the Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan, and curated by Dr. Valerie Leeds (who many years ago worked at Spanierman Gallery). The show, which will travel to four museums, opened September 6 at Winthrop Galleries, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina, where Lewandowski was the chair of the Department of Art and Design from 1973 to 1984. (The full dates and venues are below.)
Among the works in the exhibition is Cruise Ship, No. II (1987), lent by Spanierman Gallery. Having experienced my first cruise recently, I share Lewandowski’s awed appreciation of the complex and precise engineering of such vessels, which can house, feed, and entertain what might be the inhabitants of a whole city. In fact, as Dr. Leeds has informed us, the work was inspired by a cruise taken by the artist that included stops in Venice, Split, and Crete. There is a sense of Mediterranean light in the uncontested cerulean blue sky, against which the white central mast of the ship and a part of its crisp white top deck are sharply illuminated. (Lewandowski also painted a full-length view of the same vessel in a painting in the artist’s estate). The smooth, immaculate surface, unmodulated color areas, and clean lines reveal the way that for Lewandowski, industrial forms had an “aesthetic impact . . . such as the cathedrals might have had on artists of older times.”
Many artists reject labels, but Lewandowski embraced his identity as a Precisionist, using its stylistic features as a means of fulfilling his “overwhelming desire . . . to record the beauty of man-made objects and the energy of American industry.”
Born to Polish parents in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lewandowski served in the United States Air Force from 1942 to 1946. In addition to his painting career, he was an esteemed art teacher, art administrator, muralist, and illustrator.
Exhibition schedule for Edmund Lewandowski: Precisionism and Beyond: Winthrop Galleries, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina, September 6-December 5, 2010; Mobile Museum of Art, Alabama, January 20-April 2, 2011; Flint Institute of Arts, Michigan, May 7-August 7, 2011; and Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, September 10-December 4, 2011.