Monday, November 25, 2013

America: Painting a Nation

The story of 200+ years of history told in more than 80 artworks by Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keeffe and others in the exhibition America: Painting a Nation on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales 8 November 2013 – 9 February 2014

America: Painting a Nation is the most expansive survey of American painting ever presented in Australia and is the Gallery’s major summer exhibition for 2013. It is part of the Sydney International Art Series which brings the world’s outstanding exhibitions to Australia, exclusive to Sydney, and has been made possible with the support of the NSW Government through Destination NSW. Over 80 works, ranging from 1750 to 1966, cover more than 200 years of American art, history and experience. The exhibition sets a course from New England to the Western frontier, from the Grand Canyon to the burlesque theatres of New York, from the aristocratic elegance of colonial society to the gritty realism of the modern metropolis. This exhibition will reveal the breadth of American history, the hardy morality of the frontier, the intimacy of family life, the intensity of the 20th-century city, the epic scale of its landscape and the diversity of its people. The works being presented – many by American masters – are the works Americans love and works that represent the stories they have grown up with.

Portrait of a black sailor
(Paul Cuffe?) 1800
Los Angeles County Museum
of Art, purchased with funds
provided by Cecile Bartman M.2005.2

Thomas Sully
Portrait of Misses Mary and
Emily McEuen 1823
Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
purchased with funds provided by
Cecile Bartman M.2008.222

Edward Hicks
Penn’s Treaty with the Indians
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,
The Bayou Bend Collection, gift of
Alice C Simkins in memory of Alice
N Hanszen B.77.46

America: painting a nation features well-known names – Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe and James Whistler among them. But most are less familiar; the ‘household names’ of American art are rarely seen in Australia. The exhibition will introduce Copley, Peale and Sully, the great portraitists of the Revolutionary era; Church, Cole and Moran, masters of the sublime landscape; Homer and Remington, lyric poets of the frontier; Cassatt, Sargent and Hassam, celebrators of the 19th-century Gilded Age; Sloan, Shinn and Henri, humanist observers of the early 20th century city; Demuth, Marin and Davis, the voices of a uniquely American vision of dynamic modern life. Selected in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Terra Foundation, Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, America: painting a nation brings to Sydney both national and regional perspectives on American art.

Diversity is a key theme in the exhibition. The cultural diversity of a continent inhabited first by Native American Indians; colonised by the Spanish, French and English; and developing through mass migration into a cultural melting pot. The physical diversity of a landscape encompassing the dense forests of the northeast, the endless plains of the Midwest, the awe-inspiring geography of the Grand Canyon and the stillness of the desert. ‘This exhibition signals a significant direction for the AGNSW by building relationships with major American museums and further developing our visitors’ engagement with American art and culture. While we have a fair share of American culture in Australia, especially through the media, we need to be better connected with American history and American vision. What we see in this exhibition is how America came to be America. The artists reveal America’s foundation narratives: the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, the frontiersman, the migrant. They explore the ideas, places and people that made America exceptional but equally there are works that don’t shy away from the darker chapters of American history either. Some of the paintings are very challenging’, said Michael Brand.

Ernest Martin Hennings
Passing by 1924
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,
gift of the Ranger Fund, National
Academy of Design 26.11
© Estate of Ernest Martin Hemmings/
Bridgeman Art Library

Charles Willson Peale
Portrait of John and Elizabeth Lloyd
Cadwalader and their daughter Anne 1772

Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased for the
Cadwalader Collection 1983-90-3

A measure of the wealth, ambition and unique cultural circumstances in pre- Revolutionary America. The Cadwaladers were art patrons in Philadelphia, then the fourth largest city in the British Empire and soon to be the site for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. This is a modern family; their wealth derives from business, their values are those of the Enlightenment, and their relations are casual. Peale reinvents the family portrait, setting aside the rigidity of English aristocratic conventions and revealing the informal spirit of an emerging American character.

Henry Inman
No-Tin (Wind), a Chippewa chief
Los Angeles County Museum
of Art, gift of the 2008 Collectors
Committee M.2008.58

A portrait of a Native American leader reveals the moral and political complexities of American history. Bridging two worlds, No-Tin adapts imported clothing and feathers into formal regalia worn during territorial negotiations in Washington DC. One of a series of official portraits, coinciding with the federal government policy of forced removal and relocation, the image speaks of heritage, nobility and loss simultaneously.

Winslow Homer
A temperance meeting 1874
Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with the
John Howard McFadden Jr Fund 1956-118-1

The grand idea of frontier life as a hallmark of American character, condensed into a modest anecdote from everyday life. A folksy tale – boy meets girl over a shared drink of well water – expands into a gentle reflection on youth, rural labour and the Puritan legacy. A reminder that morality pervades American art: honest work, sound community values and a foundation of piety shape the 19th-century frontier.

Thomas Moran
Grand Canyon of the Colorado River
Philadelphia Museum of Art,
gift of Graeme Lorimer 1975-182-1

A hymn to the awe-inspiring scale of American space. Immersing the viewer in a space so deep that all sense of scale is lost, the painting pushes the idea of the sublime to an almost hallucinatory level. Moran’s huge landscape reveals why big is so important; wide-open spaces represent not only the might of the Creator but the seemingly boundless opportunities of the New World.

Georgia O’Keeffe
Horse’s skull with pink rose 1931
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the
Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation AC1994.159.1
© Museum Associates/LACMA

A remarkable example of art’s passage from personal experience to national symbolism. O’Keeffe abandons New York for the open spaces of New Mexico. In a horse’s skull, found in the desert, she finds a symbol of the frontier, history and mortality. In a moment |of improvisation, she adds a flower, adding a grace note of commemoration, fecundity and beauty to a symbol of death. A deliberate attempt to invent an American symbol, the painting also marks the artist’s embrace of a new life in the west.

Stuart Davis
Something on the eight ball 1953–54
Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with the
Adele Haas Turner and Beatrice Pastorius Turner
Memorial Fund 1954-30-1
© Stuart Davis. VAGA, licenced by Viscopy

A distinctive characteristic of American abstract art is that it always stayed connected with the realities of American experience. Davis finds abstract values – colour, energy, vitality – in American street life. Neon lights, advertising hoardings, petrol stations and jazz music inspire a painting to appeal to the avant-garde and the hipster alike.

America: painting a nation

A comprehensive full-colour book with over 90 images will be published in conjunction with the exhibition.

From an interesting review (images added):
Among the showstoppers in Painting a Nation is Edward Hopper's House at Dusk, painted seven years before his best-known canvas, Nighthawks:

Edward Hopper
House at dusk 1935
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,
John Barton Payne Fund
© Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Jackson Pollock's 56.4cm x 56.4cm No 22 will show Australians familiar with Blue Poles that the abstract expressionist didn't restrict himself to huge canvases:

Jackson Pollock
No 22 1950
Philadelphia Museum of Art, The
Albert M Greenfield and Elizabeth
M Greenfield Collection 1974-78-41
© Pollock Krasner Foundation, ARS, licensed
by Viscopy

Mark Rothko's Gyrations on Four Planes reveals to those who are only superficially aware of the artist, who paints mainly plain planes, that he also sometimes painted, well, gyrations on planes:

Very interesting review with more images:

It is only four years since a show from the Metropolitan Museum, New York, called American Impressionism and Realism was seen at the Queensland Art Gallery. That exhibition was criticised for having too many minor pieces but it was a far more coherent proposition than the present event. By focusing on a particular period the QAG show allowed us a better glimpse of some key artists. Childe Hassam (1859-1935), for instance, who is arguably the leading American Impressionist, was represented by six paintings. At the AGNSW he has only one – a blue-tinted nocturne called

Rainy midnight (late 1890s).

This is an attractive picture but it gives no idea of the range of Hassam’s work.

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) the only American painter to have exhibited with the French Impressionists was represented by six works in the 2009 show, but only two in Sydney.

Mary Cassatt, 1881, A Woman and a Girl Driving

shows her debt to Degas, while

Mother about to wash her sleepy child (1880)

is said to be her first painting on the ‘mother and child’ theme. It certainly looks like a first attempt, being a clumsy bit of painting that distorts the proportions of the figures.

Artists in the exhibition:

Milton Avery
Cecilia Beaux
George Bellows
Thomas Hart Benton
Edward Biberman
Joseph H Boston
John George Brown
Mary Cassatt
Jefferson David Chalfant
William Merritt Chase
Frederic Edwin Church
Thomas Cole
John Singleton Copley
Jasper Francis Cropsey
Stuart Davis
Charles Demuth
Arthur Garfield Dove
Thomas Eakins
Robert Feke
Erastus Salisbury Field
Daniel Garber
Yun Gee
Sanford Robinson Gifford
Arshile Gorky
Adolph Gottlieb
William Michael Harnett
Marsden Hartley
Childe Hassam
Miki Hayakawa
Martin Johnson Heade
Ernest Martin Hennings
Robert Henri
Edward Hicks
Hans Hofmann
Winslow Homer
Edward Hopper
Henry Inman
Robert Irwin
William Smith Jewett
Eastman Johnson
William Keith
John Frederick Kensett
Lee Krasner
John Lewis Krimmel
Walter Kuhn
John La Farge
Fitz Henry Lane
Jacob Lawrence
Helen Lundeberg
John Marin
Reginald Marsh
Thomas Moran
Georgia O’Keeffe
Otis Oldfield
Charles Willson Peale
John Frederick Peto
Jackson Pollock
Maurice Prendergast
Frederic Remington
Severin Roesen
Mark Rothko
John Singer Sargent
Charles Sheeler
Everett Shinn
John Sloan
Allen Smith Jr
Robert Spencer
Thomas Sully
Henry Ossawa Tanner
Max Weber
William Wendt
James McNeill Whistler
Thomas Waterman Wood
NC Wyeth

The exhibition is organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art
and the Terra Foundation for American Art in collaboration with the
Art Gallery of New South Wales, and has been made possible through
support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.