Louis Lozowick came of age in an art world swirling with “isms”—Purism, Futurism, Dadaism, Cubism, Constructivism, Suprematism, Precisionism—all avant-garde and all vying to be the visual language of the twentieth century. Out of this welter of cultural impulses that followed the Great War, Lozowick fashioned his own art. Formally rigorous, socially engaged, aesthetically pleasing, it was a personal amalgam, reflecting Lozowick’s own educated and cosmopolitan understanding of contemporary America and the world.
Lozowick’s beginning was hardly auspicious. The artist was born in 1892 into a desperately poor Jewish family in Ludvinovka, a peasant village in the Ukraine. His mother died when he was a child, and his father sent him to a religious school to make certain that he didn’t follow in the footsteps of his secularized older brothers. The fear turned out to be well-founded. Louis’s older brother, Harry, arrived home for a visit, and, when he left, took nine-year-old Louis with him back to Kiev. Although most schools were closed to Jews, Lozowick, who had already shown a precocious talent for art, was able to enroll at the Kiev Art School. He received a rigorous academic training in drawing, and, equally as important, met older students who were aware of the wider world of European art and culture. Harry Lozowick, on the losing side of the Revolution of 1905, fled to the United States, and, in 1906, managed to smuggle his fourteen-year-old brother out of Russia. Louis settled in Newark, New Jersey, mastered English rapidly, and worked at factory jobs to finance his high school education.
From 1912 to 1915, Lozowick studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City, where again, he received a conservative academic training in art but found, in teachers like Emil Carlsen and Leon Kroll, encouragement to pursue his own interests. These were epochal years in the world of American art, spanning the 1913 Armory Show. In 1915, Lozowick determined that to make his way in America, he needed a college education. He chose Ohio State University in Columbus, a city where he knew he could find factory jobs to pay his way through school. Three years later Lozowick graduated, Phi Beta Kappa. He went directly into the army, serving for a year. After his discharge, Lozowick traveled around the country, visiting Chicago, Minneapolis, Cleveland, and Seattle. Then, funded by veteran’s benefits, he sailed for Europe.
When Lozowick arrived in post-war Europe, America epitomized the wave of the future and exerted a particular fascination on the literary and artistic vanguard who welcomed the influx of American energy (and, of course, American money). Wanda Corn, in The Great American Thing: Modern Art and National Identity, 1915–1935 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999) characterizes Lozowick, together with Joseph Stella (who was born in Italy and also joined an older brother in America when he was a teenager), as an artist “whose bicontinental lives and mixed citizenship epitomize le type transatlantique. Transatlantiques [all italics original] were ... migrant artists, moving back and forth across the Atlantic, carrying the ideas and values of one culture into the heart of another” (p. 91). Corn describes Lozowick’s experience in Europe in terms which illuminate both what he found there and the influence it had on his art.
Louis Lozowick testified vividly, in both his autobiography and his paintings, to the pervasive curiosity in Europe about the New World. “Everything American was popular,” he told an interviewer. And everywhere he traveled in postwar Europe—Paris, Berlin, and Moscow—people wanted to hear about his American life. The locals peppered him with questions. In Moscow they asked about American machines and wanted to hear about Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Theater students wanted to know not only about theater in the United States but about the Ford factory in Detroit and the steel mills of Pittsburgh. In Paris, besides the usual questions about American architecture and industry, he was asked whether American drugstores served meals and what American males did without pissoirs and whether it was true that American society frowned on men’s having mistresses.
In this climate, Americans were cultural heroes, trés chic. This European adoration of America’s materialistic society moved visiting Yankees to reexamine what they had dismissed at home as hopelessly vulgar and to see it, in the reflected light of admiration, as beautiful. Barbara Zabel, in “Louis Lozowick and Urban Optimism of the 1920s” (Archives of American Art Journal XIV ) records Charles Demuth’s reaction to this adulation:
When Charles Demuth was in Paris in 1921, Albert Gleizes, and Marcel Duchamp insisted that “New York is the place—there are the modern ideas. Europe is finished.” Such enthusiasm gave Demuth a new perspective on America and he wrote, “I never knew really that ... New York ... has something not found here. It makes me feel almost like running back and doing something about it” (p. 19).
Lozowick, with a natural gift for language, and a thoroughly cosmopolitan cultural heritage, fit naturally into European artistic circles. His first destination was Paris where he absorbed elements of Dada and Cubism. He immediately found common ground with Fernand Léger (1881–1955), an artist whose fascination with machine imagery led him to combine modernist art technique with modern technological forms. Léger’s vision proved a major influence on the younger Lozowick.
Lozowick went from Paris to Berlin, intending only a brief visit, but found himself immediately involved in the lively art scene of Weimar Germany. Berlin welcomed a significant population of Russians, including an influential core of artists. Lozowick joined this group and was especially drawn to the constructivist, El Lissitsky (Lazar Mikhailovitch Lissitsky, 1890–1941). In 1923, both Lissitsky and Lozowick contributed to an issue of Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts (1921–24), published in Italy by Peggy Guggenheim’s cousin, Harold Loeb. Lissitsky provided the cover artwork; Lozowick wrote an article. Lozowick’s art, at once modern in vocabulary and concern, but thoroughly grounded in extensive academic training, received a friendly critical reception in Germany. He exhibited with constructivists in Düsseldorf in 1922, and, in 1922 and 1923, had two well-reviewed one-man shows in Berlin.
By 1924, Lozowick had exhausted his combination of veteran’s benefits and occasional income from art and writing and he returned to New York. Among his many activities during the remaining years of the 1920s, Lozowick lectured on modern Russian art at the Société Anonyme and wrote about European art for The Menorah Journal and The Nation. In 1926, he joined the editorial board of The New Masses. From 1925 to 1927, Lozowick was an organizer, together with Charles Sheeler and others, of The Machine Age Exposition, a definitive statement of American Precisionism held at Steinway Hall in New York City. The accompanying catalogue for the show was a special edition of The Little Review to which Lozowick contributed an important short essay called “The Americanization of Art.” As had generations of artists before him, Lozowick sought to describe the contours of an American art. Often reprinted, the premise of this essay reflects its time and indisputably describes Lozowick’s own art agenda in the 1920s. He wrote, in part, “The dominant trend of America of today, beneath all the apparent chaos and confusion is towards order and organization which find their outward sign and symbol in the rigid geometry of the American city...” (as reprinted and quoted in Janet Flint, The Prints of Louis Lozowick: A Catalogue Raisonné [New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1982], pp. 18–19).
In 1926, Lozowick was invited to exhibit his work at J. B. Neumann’s New Art Circle Gallery. Neumann had moved from Berlin to New York in 1923 and showed an impressive group of contemporary European artists, including Max Beckmann, Paul Klee, Georges Roualt, Wassily Kandinsky, and Oscar Bluemner. (These artists did not fit into Stieglitz’s post-war gallery, An American Place, being insufficiently or not-at-all American.) Lozowick had first encountered lithography in 1923 in Berlin, Encouraged by Carl Zigrosser at the Weyhe Gallery, in 1929 Lozowick had his first show of lithographs, a medium in which he continued to work for the rest of his career. Lozowick was a politically engaged artist, and, in the 1930s his art increasingly reflected his reaction to the human consequences of the traumatic economic depression. He moderated his pure geometry to add the human figure to his works, made his industrial images less gigantic in scale, and generally became less mechanistic in his approach.