Summer with the Averys (Milton, Sally, March)

May 11, 2019 - September 1, 2019

On May 11, 2019, the Bruce Museum will open Summer with the Averys (Milton, Sally, March). Organized by Kenneth E. Silver, Silver Professor of Art History at New York University and Bruce Museum Adjunct Curator of Art, the exhibition will take a fresh look at the remarkable body of work produced by Milton Avery, for whom summer was arguably the moment of his most intense artistic inspiration. Not only will Avery’s great landscapes, seascapes, beach scenes, and figural compositions be featured, but the exhibition will also constitute a family portrait—equal attention will be paid to the summertime work created by his wife, Sally Michel Avery, herself a professional commercial artist, and, later on, by their gifted daughter, March Avery.

As it was for many artists before and since, summertime was a moment of heightened creativity for Milton Avery. Escaping from the excitement and pressures of the New York art world, Avery found his productivity augmented by the chance to relax in a bucolic setting. It was, in fact, in 1924, on his third summer visit to Gloucester, Massachusetts—long an artist’s colony where, among others, Winslow Homer had worked—that Avery met Sally Michel, whom he would marry less than two years later. Milton and Sally would return to live and paint almost every summer in Gloucester for the following decade (sometimes along with Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman), and again for several summers in the 1940s.

Over the course of their lives together, Milton, Sally, and March Avery ventured forth to unwind and work as far south as Mexico (three months in the summer of 1946, six weeks of that spent in San Miguel de Allende); west to Laguna Beach, California (1941); north to the Gaspé Peninsula (1938); as well as to the artists’ retreats of the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire and Yaddo in upstate New York. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Averys spent numerous summers in both Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Woodstock, New York (where Milton Avery is buried). The work that resulted from these sojourns—including oil paintings, watercolors, gouaches, monotypes, drypoints and etchings—was filled with the splendor of natural phenomena and the sociability of family, friends, and acquaintances; some of the finest of these works combine nature and culture in moving ways, like the image of a lone beach umbrella at the shore, or a solitary figure walking on the sand. Not surprisingly, as the three artists worked in close proximity, they also served, at moments, as sitters for one another, actors in each other’s summertime stories-in-paint.

Almost all filled with brilliant and subtle color, their mix of sophisticated composition and folkloric-looking figures an Avery hallmark, the works in Summer with the Averys (Milton, Sally, March) range from the representational to the nearly abstract. The Bruce Museum exhibition will be an opportunity to discover not only what painter Mark Rothko referred to in 1965 as Avery’s “repertoire. . . his wife Sally, his daughter, March, the beaches and mountains where they summered,” but to observe the creative interaction of this remarkable family of artists.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue, featuring a foreword from Peter C. Sutton, Susan E. Lynch Executive Director of the Bruce Museum, and essays by the curator and two guest authors. It will feature full-color illustrations of all the works in the exhibition. Educational programming for the exhibition will include lectures, a symposium, and an audio guide.