Gene Davis (American, 1920–1985) was best known for his abstract Color field paintings. He studied liberal arts at the University of Maryland, and, upon graduation, served as a sportswriter and White House correspondent for the Transradio Press during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. In 1949, while still employed as a journalist, Davis took up painting, drawing inspiration from the Abstract Expressionist movement, and, particularly, from the works of Paul Klee. In 1950, Davis visited the Washington Workshop for the Arts, where he met painter and art historian Jacob Kainen, who became his mentor. Two years later, Davis landed his first solo exhibition of drawings at the Dupont Theater Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In 1958, Davis developed his characteristic style of rhythmic, colorful compositions of vertical stripes in acrylic paint. The painting Black Grey Beat (1964) is widely regarded as exemplary of his style and aesthetic. Critics and contemporaries identified him as a prominent member of the Washington Color School, an art movement that gained momentum in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, and included artists Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Davis also gained distinction for his monumental public works, such as Franklin’s Footpath, on the street facing the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Niagara at Artpark in Lewiston, NY. Davis was the recipient of numerous honors in the later stages of his life and career, most notably his role as commissioner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. He died in 1985, in his hometown of Washington, D.C. His works are included in the prestigious collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Timeline

1920
Born in Washington, D.C.
1939–1942
Studied the liberal arts at the Maryland University, Baltimore, MD
1943
Attended Wilson Teachers College, Washington, D.C.
1965
Awarded a Bronze Medal for Painting, Biennial Exhibition of American Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1967
Received a Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts
Began teaching at the Corcoran Gallery Art School, Washington, D.C.
1969
Commission: 60-foot mural for South Mall Project, New York State Capitol Building, Albany, NY
1972
Commission: 414-foot painting, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
1974
Awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship
1980
Commission: Street Painting at Art Park, New York, NY
1984
Appointed Commissioner, National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.
1985
Died in Washington, D.C.

Exhibitions

2009
Shaping Reality: Geometric Abstraction after 1960 - The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
2008
Gene Davis: On Paper. Watercolors and Drawings from the Estate of the Artist, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
Color as Field: American Painting, 1950-1975, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN
2007
Gene Davis, Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY(solo)
Gene Davis: Interval, The Kreeger Museum, Washington, DC(solo)
Selected Works from the Estate of Gene Davis, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC(solo)
2006
Gene Davis: Three Decades, Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY(solo)
2005
Gene Davis: Stripe Paintings from the Estate, Patricia Sweetow Gallery, San Francisco, CA(solo)
Extreme Abstraction, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
2004
Gene Davis: 1960s Stripe Paintings, Charles Cowles Gallery, New York, NY(solo)
Florian Sundheimer Kunsthandel, Munich, Germany
Color: Works from the Estate of the Artist, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC
On the Edge: Contemporary Art from the DaimlerChrysler Collection, Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, Germany (travelled to: The Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa; South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa)
Painting by Design, Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Strata, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA
2003
Minimalism and After II: New Acquisitions, DaimlerChrysler Contemporary, Berlin, Germany
That 70s Print Show, Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York, NY
Strata, Davidson Galleries, Seattle, WA
Gene Davis, Paintings and Drawings from the Estate of the Artist, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)
2000–2002
Modernism and Abstraction: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The ArtMuseum at Florida International University, Miami, FL (travelled to: Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, ME; Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, NY; Allentown Art Museum, PA; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN; Worcester Art Museum, MA; National Academy Museum, New York, NY; Des Moines Art Center, IA; Muskegon Museum of Art, MI)
2001
Works from the Estate of the Artist, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC
2000
Art at Work: Forty Years of the Chase Manhattan Collection, Queens Museum of Art, NY
Birthday Tribute to Jacob Kainen and Selections from the Washington Color School, National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
1999
At The Threshold Of The Visible: Miniscule And Small-Scale Art, 1964-1996 (travelled to: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; Decker Galleries, Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada; Art Gallery of Windsor, Ontario, Canada; Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach; Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle, WA; Edmonton Art Gallery, Alberta, Canada; Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA)
1998
In Our Time: Contemporary Art from the Bayly Art Musuem Collection, Bayly Art Museum, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
1997
Works from the Estate of the Artist, Marsha Mateyka Gallery, Washington, DC(solo)
1995
Gene Davis in Black and White: Drawings From the Fifties and Eighties, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC(solo)
1987
Gene Davis: A Memorial Exhibition, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC(solo)
1983
Gene Davis: Recent Paintings and Drawings, Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE (solo)
1982
Gene Davis: Thirty Years of Drawing, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY(solo)
Thirty Painters: Given and Promised, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
1979
Gene Davis: Recent Paintings (1970-78), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (travelled to: Dayton Art Institute, Dayton OH; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) (solo)
1974
Within the Decade: Selections from the Guggenheim Permanent Collection, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
1972
Color Field Painting to Post-Color Field Abstraction: Art for the ‘70's, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
1971
The Structure of Color, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
1970
Gene Davis: The Early Paintings, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC(solo)
Washington: Twenty Years, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
1968
Gene Davis, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, DC(solo)
1966
Two Decades of American Painting, organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY: National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Japan; Lalit Kala Gallery, New Delhi, India; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
30th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
The 1960's, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Large Scale American Paintings, The Jewish Museum, New York , NY
1965
The Responsive Eye, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY ( travelled to: The St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, Pasadena, CA; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD)
Colorists: 1950-1965, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
1964
Post Painterly Abstraction, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA ( travelled to: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Art Gallery of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
1959
Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, DC (solo)

Public Collections

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Jacksonville Art Museum, Jacksonville, FL
Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, NY
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI
Museum Of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of Modern Art. New York, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
Tate Gallery, London, UK
Akron Art Museum, Akron, OH
Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, OH
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington, DC
Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Hirshhorn Museum And Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Literature

2004
Rich, Sarah K. Gene Davis: 1960s Stripe Paintings. New York: Charles Cowles Gallery, 2004
1987
Serwer, J. D . Gene Davis, A Memorial Exhibition. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987 (catalogue)
1984
Gene Davis: The Random and the Ordered. Kansas City: University of Missouri Gallery of Art, 1984
1982
Baro, G. Gene Davis Drawings. New York: Arts Publisher, 1982
1977
Gene Davis: Rectangle Paintings. Washington, DC: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1977 (catalogue)
1975
Wall, D. (ed.). Gene Davis. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975
1968
Gene Davis, An Exhibition. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 1968 (catalogue)