Promoting Modern Art
When Pollak returned to Richmond from the Art Students League of New York, she brought a newfound interest in modern art with her. This she owed particularly to the cubist painter, Max Weber. In her own words, “Weber…inspired me with his mysticism and his ardent reverence for Cezanne, thus giving me my first introduction to the more modern painters.” [M 5, Box 1, Biographical Data, Recollections of the Art Students League.] Weber was one of many instructors at the progressive League who, in keeping with modern trends, taught Pollak the vocabulary
of two-dimensional painting as a language in itself. Rather than using paint as a means for objectively copying the natural world onto canvas, Pollak’s instructors encouraged her to subjectively transform the world through paint. In other words, they urged her to interpret her visual sources, rather than imitate them.
To Pollak, modern art meant the freedom to experiment with color, line, and composition in order to subordinate natural forms to her paintings’ own visual rhythm and organization. Her Richmond audience, on the other hand, was largely unsympathetic toward contemporary avant-garde trends, favoring instead what Pollak described as “understandable, pleasant and traditionally conservative” artwork. [M 5, Box 1b, Miscellaneous Writings, News Leader 1958 clipping.] Yet, she stood her ground as an artist, and rather than appeasing popular tastes, she used her art, exhibitions, writings, and lectures as forums for promoting artistic freedom and innovation.
The two documents featured above—Pollak’s News Leader essay and her notes for a talk at Westhampton College—exemplify her perspective on the importance of modern art. The newspaper article expresses Pollak’s support of the abstract works on display in the Virginia Museum’s 1958 exhibition of contemporary American art, while the lecture explores the various factors that shape individual painting styles. In both documents, Pollak stresses the contingency of art upon social and historical circumstances, and she therefore defends the “modern” artist’s freedom to experiment with radical techniques and styles befitting of “our age of confusion, fear and uncertainty.” [News Leader 1958 clipping.]
Through her activism as well as her own art, Pollak was a pioneer in creating a supportive audience for modern art in Richmond, Virginia.