Art: Charles Demuth amid the Silos

A new show reveals that he was more than a precursor of pop

Luckily or not, Charles Demuth (1883-1935) painted one picture so famous that practically every American who looks at art knows it. The Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, is a prediction of pop art. Based on a poem by William Carlos Williams, it powerfully conveys the passing clamor of a red New York City fire truck with the numeral 5 on it. But while it has become one of the icons of American modernism, its author has remained a little elusive beside the heavier reputations of his contemporaries: Georgia O'Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Charles Sheeler. What Demuth needed was a retrospective...