Art: Seeing Life In Jazz Tempo

A major show gives the neglected Stuart Davis his due as a great, brash chronicler of the urban American scene

To understand the career of Stuart Davis (1892-1964), the great American Modernist whose centenary show is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City through Feb. 16, you have to imagine a time when American painting hardly mattered to Europe, and when the idea of an avant-garde scarcely mattered to Americans -- except as a source of laughs.

That time is far back, of course. America, in its eager embrace of the new, industrialized and academized the idea of avant-garde production so long ago that the notion of an unpopular, provincial Modernism seems remote. But 60 years...