By chance “Legends” coincides with the Museum of Modern Art’s sweeping survey “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925,” which traces the development of a largely geometric form of abstraction, mostly by European and Russian artists who often worked in closely related styles. In comparison the Whitney’s display might almost have been subtitled “Inventing American Modernism, One Sensibility at a Time.”
The artists here impress you as talented loners working toward diverse and much messier notions of modernity. To be sure, they take tips from European styles, but they also free themselves from such influences with highly personal responses to the sights and subjects specific to this country — the rawness of its landscapes, the tawdriness of its cities, as well as its folk art, social mores and racism. Sometimes they are working toward abstraction, sometimes not.