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Jean Xceron

(1890 - 1967)
Jean Xceron, Greek by birth, came to the United States when he was fourteen years old. For the next six years he lived and worked with relatives in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and New York City. In 1910, determined to be an artist, he moved to Washington, D.C., and enrolled in classes at the Corcoran School of Art.

He, like many of his artist peers, was much influenced by the 1913 Armory Show, a venue that made provided many Americans their first exposure to modernist or abstract art, much of it imported from France.  At that time, Xceron was affiliated with the artists around Alfred Stieglitz, who was about the only promoter of modern art in America, something he did through his New York City Gallery 291.  Borrowing some of the abstract Armory Show works that Stieglitz had obtained, Xceron and some colleagues staged their own exhibition in Washington DC.  This marked him and his group as being rebels, that is in violation of academic methods prescribed by those who set those standards at the National Academy of Design.

Underscoring Xceron's commitment to non-traditional artwork was his membership in the Society of Independent Artists as well as his close association with Cubist painter Max Weber, Futurist painter Joseph Stella, and Dada Greek poet, Theodoros Dorros. 

In 1920, Xceron moved to New York and became friends with Joaquin Torres-Garcia, Max Weber, Abraham Walkowitz, and Joseph Stella. He exhibited in the New York Independents' exhibitions in 1921 and 1922. In New York, Xceron studied Céanne and read as much as possible about new artistic movements abroad.

Of him during this period, it was written that his artistic role was "a vital link between what is commonly termed as the first-generation (the Stieglitz group, the Synchromists, etc.) and second-generation, the American Abstract Artists, the Transcendental Painting Group . . ." (Vrachopoulos) .

Xceron was finally able to travel to Paris in 1927. There he began writing art reviews for the European editions of the Chicago Herald Tribune, the New York Herald Tribune, and the Boston Evening Transcript. . His articles on Jean Hélion, Hans Arp, John Graham, Theo Van Doesburg, and other artists showed his increasingly sophisticated understanding of recent art.

In this capacity, he became a link as a writer between the European avant-garde and the American public, but he also did much artwork that aligned him with the French modernist movements.

Members of the Parisian Greek community became aware of Xceron's talents, and Christian Zervos, editor of the influential magazine Cahiers d'Art, arranged a solo exhibition at the Galèrie de France in 1931. Visitors to this first exhibition saw an artist who was working his way through Cubism. Still-life and figural motifs remained prominent, but the artist was striving to capture rhythmic and fluid movement rather than solid form. Over the next several years, Xceron moved away from his figural foundations, introducing at first gridlike structural patterns and, by the mid 1930s, planar arrangements of severe Constructivist purity. By the time he returned to the United States, his work was totally abstract.  In 1938, he joined the American Abstract Artists, a group that was quite controversial in the 1940s and 50s in America because it was so different from the prevalent American Scene painting. 

Many of the Europeans artists fleeing Europe became associated with Xceron in New York City during the war years of the 1940s such as Fernand Leger and Piet Mondrian.  In fact, Xceron was the person Mondrian first wrote to when he decided to leave Europe and needed help.

When Xceron returned to New York in 1935 for an exhibition at the Garland Gallery, he was among the inner circle of Abstraction-Création and other leading Parisian art groups. He again visited New York in 1937 for a show at Nierendorf Gallery. Although planning only a visit, his move proved permanent and Xceron soon joined the American Abstract Artists, who welcomed him as a leading Parisian artist. Despite his increasing reputation, however, he fared little better commercially than did his new colleagues. He was hired by the WPA Federal Art Project and executed an abstract mural for the chapel at Riker's Island Penitentiary.

Xceron's work was added to the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and in the 1940s and 1950s, he was employed in a Registrar capacity by Hilla Rebay at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.  In that position, he was able to do his own painting as well in his spare time, and he had gallery exhibitions and regular exposure at the Guggenheim in their non-objective shows.  In the late 1940s and early 1950s, his work reflected Abstract Expressionism such as in the painting commission, Radar, he did for the University of Georgia.

Jean Xceron died in 1967.


Sources: Virginia M. Mecklenburg via Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art; AskArt

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