Modern Minute: "For Internal Use Only," Stuart Davis (1945)

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Modern Minute: "For Internal Use Only," Stuart Davis (1945)

Jay Curley of Wake Forest University discusses Stuart Davis's For Internal Use Only, on view in the Museum's exhibition Reynolda Moderns

Modern Minute: Stuart Davis, "For Internal Use Only"

Reynolda House is grateful for the generous support of Reynolda Moderns from media sponsor Our State magazine.

[TRANSCRIPT]  Jay Curley, Wake Forest University: Stuart Davis, “For Internal Use Only” 1945

For Internal Use Only is not only an abstract painting, but it's also a painting that stakes out what an abstract painting should and should not be. Here Davis clearly references his recently deceased friend Piet Mondrian, that great Dutch painter of straight lines and primary colors. You can see how Davis references Mondrian in all four corners of this picture with that grid. You can also see how Davis renders that grid a little bit unstable and off kilter, suggesting a movement that Mondrian wouldn’t have tolerated in his pictures. You can also see how Davis enjoys using dayglo colors and signs of the chaotic urban environment to signify that painting, especially abstract painting, should represent everyday life, not only its own purity.

This painting is an incredibly physical object, so visitors will be drawn immediately to the rich textures of its surface. For instance, that long horizontal rectangle painted red near the top of the picture is painted so thickly it seems to reside on top of the picture plane. Such materiality forces us to think very carefully about what Davis is doing in terms of his process.


Stuart Davis was also a politically engaged artist. Like many American painters and intellectuals during the Great Depression, he aligned himself with Communism and it was during those years he tried to link his abstract pictures with these radical politics. Some scholars have even suggested that his reputation suffered during the Cold War and even the years after because of these earlier political affiliations.

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