Erie Underpass, 1949
Nile Spencer (American, 18931952)
Oil on canvas; 28 x 36 in. (71.1 x 91.5 cm)
Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1950 (50.31.3)
Spencer's customary subjects were the industrial edifices of factories, mills, and powerhouses. However, he also displayed a fascination with the interstices and transitional points of cities, such as bridges, rooftops, and the gaps between buildings. Erie Underpass, a late work, was painted while the artist was living in Dingmans Ferry, a town on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. (The title is a reference to the Erie Railroad, which ran through the region.) Working in an even more rigorous variant of his Precisionist style, he transformed this purely functional structure into a bold visual abstraction. His extreme flattening of its forms results in ambiguous spatial relations between the elements of this structure: the staircase seems disconnected from the platform, and nothing is visible through the dark, arched openings of the underpass.