Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Georgia Museum of Art inches toward fundraising goal for $20M expansion

Rebecca K. Quigley's article from the Athens Banner-Herald:

Georgia Museum of Art inches toward fundraising goal for $20M expansion
Collection stored away for rainy day

Museum visitors take in Art Rosenbaum's India Triptych, 1998, oil on linen, at the Georgia Museum of Art during a guided tour through the museum last week.
David Walter Banks/Staff

The edgy temperaments of the inner-city teenagers in painter Paul Cadmus' "The Playground" are lost on most Georgia Museum of Art patrons.

The extra special piece, which usually hangs hidden from the public in a floor-to-ceiling storage rack, along with many other famous works of art, is one that should never be stowed, said GMOA Director William Eiland.

"Under normal circumstances, any museum would want to have that out always," he said.
Museum patrons rarely will find Georgia O'Keefe's "Red Barn, Lake George, New York," Gregory Gillespie's "Wheel of Life" or works by Joan Mitchell, Frederick [sic] Church and Charles Burchfield in the small corner of the museum set aside for displaying GMOA's permanent collection.

The permanent collection includes about 11,000 works - 2,000 of which were acquired in the past 10 years - yet the museum doesn't have the space to display even 3 percent of it.

Many more of the museum's paintings, 97 percent of which are kept in crowded storage rooms, could be on view, said GMOA Head Registrar Tricia Miller.

The museum doesn't keep anything on view year-round - "with paintings, it's because we're not able to," Miller said.

The packing room and the student assistants' room are two of a handful of rooms being used for the storage of three-dimensional art, drawing sighs of exasperation from staff who never have been able to put it on display.

Museum staff said they ought to take down the "student assistants" room sign, at least for a few years, until they have 10 new galleries designed especially for Asian, American, African, European, graphic and decorative art as part of a $20 million museum expansion.

The current building on Carlton Street opened in 1996, but the museum has been around since 1948 in what now is the Administration Building housing the president's office.

The expansion will include 10 additional galleries to showcase more of the permanent collection, increase storage and classroom space, expand the library and add a print study room and an outdoor sculpture garden.

The additional galleries will allow museum curators to dedicate the current galleries to traveling and temporary exhibits.

About 7,000 drawings, watercolors and other works on paper - which make up the majority of the collection - are in storage most of the time because they are too fragile to sit under lights.
But many museum patrons do see the works - just not at the museum.

The museum lends out the works more often than it displays them here as part of 12 sets of paperworks of up to 60 pieces, put together especially for traveling exhibits, said associate registrar Christy Sinksen.

"We can say that other people see our works more than we do," Sinksen said.

Although they are not on display very often, students and faculty can come in for private study, she said.

But they can't do it in the soft-lit, teak-paneled room intended as a print study - it, too, is being used for storage.

With some free time to spare, Cristina and Brian Jarrel of Lawrenceville found a sitter and drove to Athens on Thursday to see what the museum had on display this season.

The couple said they were most keen on seeing sculpture, impressionism and other traditional works that they hope the museum will show more of with the expansion.

"I'd like to see more photography on the walls," said Brian Jarrel, a some-time visitor to the museum. "(Also) I would like to be able to take pictures in the galleries. ... I like to be able to go back home and relive it."

Art museums, on average, display about 5 percent of their collections at any given time, said Jason Hall, director of government and media relations for the American Association of Museums.

But many factors can make it as low as less than 2 percent and as high as 10 percent. If a small museum has a small collection, it may put more works on display, but a large museum that has been collecting for a long time may have less in public view, Hall said.

Museums primarily expand for more exhibition space as their collections grow, but they also expand to support education, conservation and other missions that museums have come to focus on more than in the past, he said.

To date, Georgia Museum of Art staff and friends have raised about $13.1 million toward the museum's $20 million expansion.

The museum will receive a $5 million challenge grant from the Atlanta-based Robert Woodruff Foundation once the campaign reaches the $15 million mark, but the final fundraising stretch always is the most difficult, Eiland said.

"I'm surprised that this size community is so supportive of this kind of museum," he said. "(But) the last million dollars is always the hardest."

Workers have begun construction of a new $39 million Lamar Dodd School of Art just to the west of the museum as part of the university's master plan to expand the visual and performing arts area of East Campus.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Art Rosenbaum podcast

Art Rosenbaum, Hurricane Season (triptych), 1999. Oil on linen, 72 x 210 in.
Collection of the artist.

The Georgia Museum of Art has an excerpt from this past Sunday's "Afternoon of Art and Music" featuring Art Rosenbaum. In the podcast, Rosenbaum plays the banjo and sings, discusses how music can serve as an inspiration for abstract art, and -- in typical Rosenbaum fashion -- offers paraphrased quotations from W.B. Yeats and Philip Guston.

Weaving His Art on Golden Looms: Paintings and Drawings by Art Rosenbaum remains open at GMOA through the holiday season.

[Click here to link to the GMOA's podcast.]

mp3 file

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rosenbaum DVD segment

The exhibition catalogue for Weaving His Art on Golden Looms: Paintings and Drawings by Art Rosenbaum includes a 45-minute documentary on DVD titled "It's Not What You Think It Is," directed by Neil Rosenbaum.

The Communications Department at the Georgia Museum of Art has made a clip of the documentary available:

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Daura Center opening

As cooler weather creeps in, and the colors of the leaves slowly begin to turn hues of orange, yellow and red, it becomes more and more apparent that fall is settling in on Northeast Georgia.

And those stunning images of autumn conjure up memories of Pierre Daura, the Catalan-American artist who was a member of the influential artistic group Cercle et Carré. Daura spent many of his years in Virginia, where he produced several beautiful landscape paintings.

Autumn Trees

Return to the Village

The Pierre Daura Center at the Georgia Museum of Art initiates and promotes the exhibition and study of the works of Pierre Daura and the contextualization of his oeuvre and career into the history of his time and place. Recently the museum named Gioncarlo Fiorenza as the new Pierre Daura Curator of European art and the director of the Pierre Daura Center.

On Dec. 8 at 5:30 p.m. at the Georgia Museum of Art, we will officially open the Pierre Daura Center with a reception honoring this new beginning. Fiorenza will give a brief lecture on Daura's life and his works. This event is free and open to the public, and we hope you'll come join us for this celebration.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

American Impressionism podcast

The podguide tour of our Rachel Cosby Conway (permanent collection) Gallery is also now available for download. The Conway Gallery currently features some of our best paintings from the era of American Impressionism. In order for you to enjoy the podguide without visiting the Georgia Museum of Art, I have included several images here.
You can download the podcast, in mp3 format, [here].

(1) Gallery view showing the paintings by George Inness, Ralph Albert Blakelock, and Thomas Moran.
(2) Detailed close-up of the Blakelock painting.
(3) The William Louis Sonntag painting of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
(4) James A. McNeill Whistler (American, 1834-1903), Rose and Red: The Barber’s Shop, Lyme Regis, 1895, Oil on panel, 4 7/8 x 8 1/4 inches, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Eva Underhill Holbrook Memorial Collection of American Art, gift of Alfred H. Holbrook GMOA 1945.96
(5) Mary Cassatt (American, 1845-1926), Study for “The Sun Bath,” n.d., Oil on canvas, 15 x 23 inches, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; extended loan from the Joan M. MacGillivray 1957 Trust GMOA 2002.115E

(6) Gallery view showing the paintings by William M. Chase, Childe Hassam, and Theodore Robinson.
(7) John H. Twachtman (American, 1853-1902), The Little Bridge, ca. 1896, Oil on canvas, 25 x 25 inches, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Eva Underhill Holbrook Memorial Collection of American Art, gift of Alfred H. Holbrook GMOA 1945.90

Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935), Bridge at Old Lyme, 1908, Oil on canvas, 24 x 27 inches, Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia; Eva Underhill Holbrook Memorial Collection of American Art, gift of Alfred H. Holbrook GMOA 1945.47

Jay Robinson podcast

The podguide tour of the small Jay Robinson exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art is now available...several days before the show officially opens to the public.

I already posted about the exhibition [here]. That post included three images from the exhibition. Here are two more...these are both drawings...in lo-res format:

Both works are by Jay Robinson (American, born 1915), and are on extended loan from the collection of Jason Schoen, Miami, Florida. (left) Quality Music Shop, Washington, D.C., 1943, Graphite on paper, 12 ½ x 15 ½ inches, GMOA 2005.93E; (right) Three Dimensional Forms in Space, 1946, Ink on yellow paper, 22 ½ x 27 ½ inches, GMOA 2005.101E.

Unfortunately, this podguide was not recorded, like the George Bellows one this summer, in the cushy and elite confines of a sound studio at UGA's New Media Institute. So, if it sounds like some guy just sitting at his desk, that might be because I was. In an ideal world, you would download the file to your mp3 player, bring the player into the museum, and take a tour of the exhibition while listening.

The podcast, in an mp3 format, can be downloaded from [here].

Monday, October 16, 2006

Art (Rosenbaum) exclusive

From just a few minutes ago...Art Rosenbaum (left) and GMOA curator of exhibitions, Dennis Harper, strolling through the ongoing set-up of the retrospective Weaving His Art on Golden Looms: Paintings and Drawings by Art Rosenbaum...opening to the public this Saturday. The exhibition is also featured in this week's Columns, the UGA faculty/staff newspaper.

The big "party" for the autumn exhibitions at GMOA is Wed., Oct. 25th.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Museum news wire

The Georgia Museum of Art has appeared and re-appeared all across the World Wide Web in recent days. Here are a few links to some of those appearances:

* In the UGA independent student newspaper, found at redandblack.com, there is an article "Museum displays fabric of daily life" on Ashley Callahan's American quilt exhibition. The quilt display also appears in the "Resource Library" at Traditional Fine Arts Organization's web site. Some nice images there.

* The Modern Indian Works on Paper exhibition has been mentioned at Artdaily.com and redandblack.com.

* All of our new exhibitions found mention in Beth Sale's "Art Notes" in the Athens Flagpole.

* A review of the John Grabach: Century Man traveling exhibition, now at the Morris Museum in NJ and coming to Athens in July 2007, at NorthJersey.com.

* Another future exhibition, this one curated by Dennis Harper here at the museum and coming up in October, gets a blurb. Titled Weaving His Art on Golden Looms: Paintings and Drawings by Art Rosenbaum, the show earns a place at "Art Knowledge News."

"It's a Controversy on canvas"

Julie Phillips and the Athens Banner-Herald staff took an interesting approach to presenting our current exhibition The Eternal Masquerade: Prints and Paintings by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978) from the Jacob Burns Foundation. They asked if we would drape the portrait of the Duchess of Windsor, which is not allowed to be photographed for any purpose, by Brockhurst so that they could use the draped version as an image for their article. The results:

This painting on display at the Georgia Museum of Art cannot be photographed or reproduced in any way until after the death of the queen of England.
Photograph by John Curry/ABH Staff

It's a Controversy on canvas
Why can't we show you this painting?
By Julie Phillips

Oh, the scandalous lives the rich and famous lead.

Mind you, in her portrait, the Duchess of Windsor could be your stuffy, even boring, wealthy Aunt Bessie, smiling politely, not a hair out of place. But her likeness, painted by famous portrait artist Gerald Leslie Brockhurst and currently on display at the Georgia Museum of Art, can't be reproduced in any way until after the death of the current queen.

It seems the Duchess - née Bessie Wallis Warfield and a divorcée twice over - earned the love of King Edward VIII while she was still Mrs. Ernest Aldrich Simpson. When Edward announced his plans to wed her upon her divorce, he was forced to abdicate the throne and went into exile after marrying her in 1937.

Exile for nobility is hardly the poor house, however, and the former Mrs. Simpson earned the title of Duchess in the arrangement as her husband became the Duke of Windsor. In her portrait, her exquisite brooch offers evidence that the woman who'd spent much of her childhood in poverty did extremely well for herself.

The Duchess is just one of many faces with colorful stories to tell in "The Eternal Masquerade: Prints and Paintings by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978) from the Jacob Burns Foundation," on view through Oct. 8. Curator Romita Ray notes that, while it's an impressive showing of the artist's work in terms of content and scale, it's nonetheless a small collection in the career of the prolific British artist. Brockhurst was the country's most famous portraitist during the first half of the 20th century, and painted some of the world's wealthiest elite.

Brockhurst wasn't without his own scandals, either, though.

While married to his wife, Anaîs, who posed for numerous works by the artist, Brockhurst fell for a teenage model, "Dorette," more than 20 years younger than he. An early etching of Dorette, a nude titled "Adolescence," was published just after Brockhurst had become romantically involved with the then 18-year-old, and the London media reported on the relationship just after the etching was published.

Perhaps for the scandal surrounding it, it remains among Brockhurst's most famous works. But it also reveals the skill of a true master, notes Ray.

"It's a fantastic exercise in light and different surfaces - the hard, cold glass of the mirror and the softness of the skin," Ray says.

A number of works featuring both Anaîs and Dorette are represented in the show; Ray notes it would be nearly impossible to offer a collection of the artist without these, as both women were favorite (at different times) and frequent subjects for Brockhurst.

The exhibit features a variety of portraits of other subjects as well, from pouting children to astute, be-suited businessmen, among them the famous J. Paul Getty, painted, notes Ray in the exhibit catalog, "with a hint of modernism" by an artist who drew much of his influence from the Italian masters, "filtered through the Pre-Raphaelite preference for early Renaissance painting," notes Ray in the catalog.

In fact, Brockhurst, master that he was, was much at the mercy of pleasing his subjects and those who commissioned his work. While his attention to detail and obvious affinity for giving depth and texture to his sitters' faces shines in every work, Brockhurst was obliged to soften edges, hide flaws and romanticize his subjects at their request.

"These are works of fiction created out of real bodies," Ray says, adding these commissioned works were kept in private collections, for the most part.

Today, they are part of the collection of the Jacob Burns Foundation, named for Brockhurst's longtime friend and lawyer, who himself dabbled in portraiture later in life, painting a portrait of Brockhurst himself in 1964. In December 2001, the Jacob Burns Foundation designated the GMOA as the temporary repository for the archives, paintings, prints and drawings, and Ray, who has a strong interest in British art, says she made it her goal to bring the exhibit to the museum. Although Ray recently left her post as curator and prints and drawings for a position at Syracuse University, she says she'll return in late September to see the show.

Ray admits to a fascination for the genre of portraiture in addition to being interested in Brockhurst's work.

"It's one of the oldest genres, you see it in sculpture and photography as well ... and it's more accessible as a genre. There's a more intimate awareness of the human body when we look at a portrait. And we want to know who are these people and what are their stories."

Books: Museum Studies, part I

On rare occasions, I get asked about what books are good and interesting reads in "museum studies." Authors dealing with the museum in American culture often extol inclusiveness, plurality, and constant re-evaluation as key if museums, especially art museums, wish to help construct a new idea of ourselves as a nation. Here are quick reviews of two fairly recent publications that critique "the museum":

Peter Vergo, ed., The New Museology (London: Reaktion, 1989).
In 1989, Peter Vergo edited a series of essays on the museum and its functions. The essayists in The New Museology note that objects have multiple meanings, museums are products of cultural and ideological discourse, and museum visiting is itself a cultural phenomenon. The many authors note that the act of collecting always has had a political, ideological, and/or aesthetic dimension. Every acquisition and deaccession in a museum, every juxtaposition of objects, every arrangement of a work of art "means placing a certain construction upon history, be it the history of the distant or more recent past, of our own culture or someone else's, of mankind in general or a particular aspect of human endeavor." Museums (if they ever truly were) are certainly no longer, the essayists argue, bastions of "true" knowledge and temples of objective truth. Every museum exhibition, whatever its subject, inevitably draws upon the cultural assumptions and resources of the people who create the exhibition.

Amy Henderson and Adrienne L. Kaeppler, eds., Exhibiting Dilemmas: Issues of Representation at the Smithsonian (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997).
Published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Smithsonian Institution, Exhibiting Dilemmas utilizes twelve essays by Smithsonian staff members to address issues of ideology, cultural assumptions, and curatorial practices. Steven Lubar, in the book's opening essay, calls for museum curators to make use of audience "memory" within exhibitions and to explain the complexities of exhibitions to visitors. But the most intriguing essays in Exhibiting Dilemmas are the ones that focus on historicizing and deconstructing the myths around individual objects:
  • William Truettner's "pro-revisionist" discussion of hypothetical labels for Emmanuel Leutze's The Founding of Maryland;

  • Mary Jo Arnoldi's reading of Herbert Ward's sculptures of Africans;

  • Jane Maclaren Walsh's dialogue regarding the problematic history and authenticity of an Aztec crystal skull.

  • and Richard Kurin's look at the Hope Diamond (stating his belief that it is on display in the wrong museum on the Mall);
The meaning of objects, and of museums' display of those objects, changes over time. Past exhibitions represent past ideological, political and cultural discourses.

As time permits, I will post on some more museum studies books that I have enjoyed reading.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Museum news wire

A great art topic: 19th-century American landscape painting. The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford has its great collection of Hudson River School paintings on display in a special "homecoming" exhibition: American Splendor: Hudson River School Masterworks From the Wadsworth Atheneum. More than 60 of the museum's best images, including Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, Sanford Gifford, and John Kensett. New York Times review [here].

London's Tate Modern announced plans for a very postmodern addition. Designed by the Swiss firm Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the architecture of the new wing seems to play with the idea of the gallery as white cube, and ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats. The price tag: $397 million. The Tate Modern plans to have it ready by the 2012 London Olympics.

The National Archives in DC has an exhibition -- Eyewitness -- that features "[t]reasures in the form of letters, diaries, photographs, and audio and film recordings, culled from the billions of documents in the holdings of the National Archives and its Presidential libraries, open new and unique windows onto well-known events." If you can't get to DC before it closes in January, the Archives has an on-line version [here].

One of the most important treasures looted in the ransacking of Iraq’s national museum three years ago has been recovered in a clandestine operation involving the United States government and was turned over to Iraqi officials in Washington recently. The artifact, a headless stone statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash, was stolen from Iraq, taken into Syria, and came on the market. The backstory of the recovery remains a secret in order to protect future recovery efforts.

Images: Wadsworth Atheneum: Thomas Cole, View in the White Mountains, 1827. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Daniel Wadsworth, 1848.17; Angel Franco/The New York Times. A headless stone statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash, looted in the ransacking of Iraq’s National Museum three years ago, has been recovered.

Friday, July 07, 2006

William Christenberry

During this week celebrating the Fourth of July in the South, it seems appropriate the American art of William Christenberry is being showcased in exhibitions and in The New York Times.

Philip Gefter's article: "Southern Exposures: Past and Present Through the Lens of William Christenberry."

From the article:

"They were like perfect little poems," Walker Evans said about the three-inch-square pictures of the American South that William Christenberry took with his amateur Brownie camera.

The Brownie was never intended for exacting documentation or creative expression; it was the camera used for snapshots of family gatherings and vacations in the 1940's and 50's. What a crafty little camera, then, for Mr. Christenberry's persistent chronicle of the regional architecture and artifacts in his native Hale County, Ala. His little snapshots managed to capture the local dialect of his hometown in visual terms.

You can check out the exhibition - Passing Time: The Art of William Christenberry - at the Smithsonian American Art Museum by clicking here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Faces of Work

John Sonsini, Luis, Nelson, Adolfo, Geovani, Ramiro, 2005, oil on canvas 82 x 120 inches.

Given the hot-button issue of immigration and politics these days, I wanted to mention an excellent article in the December 2005 issue of Art in America by Michael Duncan: "The Faces of Work." Duncan's essay is a review of paintings by Los Angeles artist John Sonsini.

From the article:

Seemingly coming from left field, Los Angeles artist John Sonsini has given new vigor to the traditional practice of painting portraits from the model. His subjects are not political leaders, celebrities or affluent families but Latino day laborers, whom he quickly, skillfully renders in exuberant strokes of oil paint. Stoked by intuition, as well as by insights gained from conversations with his subjects, Sonsini acknowledges his sitters' individuality. Never reductive or invasive, he captures body language and highlights details of clothing and appearance that hint at the emotional lives of immigrant workers who remain largely invisible in the economic and social currents of the city.

How did Sonsini select his subjects? Here is one anecdote:

For six days a week throughout February 2005, Sonsini painted portraits in the outdoor parking lot of the Hollywood Community Job Center, home to an agency that helps laborers find employment. Each day, after the construction jobs had been assigned, one man among those left behind was selected by lottery and paid $60 to sit for a portrait. That painting would be completed in one marathon session lasting three to five hours.

The act of painting, start to finish, right there in the community had a profound impact on Sonsini:

In the studio, the painting has the authority of a 'work of art.' But under the awning, with fifteen men watching and commenting as I paint their friend, with an auto shop behind me, a little weight training going on in the other corner, sometimes a barbeque, and dozens of men milling about, well ... the painting loses all that authority. It is, without a doubt, 'a painting,' and could not be mistaken for anything else. It was terrific to find that happening.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Heirloom, jug donated to museum

Wayne Ford's article in yesterday's "Living" section of the Athens Banner-Herald:

Cheever Meaders, who died in 1967, helped establish the Meaders name as folk potters in North Georgia. He is a distant kin of Dr. Roy Ward of Watkinsville, who owns a face jug made by Meaders that was handed down through his family.

The face jug recently was donated to the University of Georgia Museum of Art.

The following is an excerpt from an essay Ward wrote on the jug.

"When young Cheever Meaders in North Georgia gave his syrup jug joke to his young cousins, Clyde and Bonnie Meaders in Watkinsville, none of them expected it would ever become valued art in a prestigious museum. But the little jug that sat for over 50 years on a mantel piece and was laughed at, was the prototype for other face jugs, turned out by Cheever's descendants and, in time, most of the other folk potters in the area.

"This whimsical early jug is different from all the later ones. Cheever took his ordinary jug, still wet from the potter's wheel, and altered it. It is a true jug. The face part is secondary. For its eyes and teeth he broke up pieces of white quartz. He set pieces of molded clay for eyelids, nose and ears; the ears being identical to the shapes used for handles on churns.

"The other jugs made much later have been primarily faces, and only incidentally jugs. They are in a fashion to be collected, very different from Cheever's little private joke.

"This prototype jug was made in the 1920s and was never out of the family until it was donated to the Georgia Museum of Art."

In Charles Mack's book, "Talking with the Turners," Cheever Meader's son, Lanier, said his father probably made less than a dozen face jugs during his lifetime. Lanier Meaders made large quantities of the jugs.

Mr. Ford also ran a story on/review of Prof. Charles Mack's book Talking with the Turners: Conversations with Southern Folk Potters.

Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Set to Re-Open

Two Smithsonian museums re-open this weekend after a 6-1/2-year renovation. They will now each be a part of the "Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture." The website is [here]. Celebration details for the re-opening are [here].

The New York Times coverage [here]. Washington Post coverage [here] and [here].

The National Portrait Gallery will feature the re-installation of "America's Presidents": "The nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House, this exhibition lies at the heart of the Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the American story through the individuals who have shaped it. Visitors will see an enhanced and extended display of multiple images of 42 presidents of the United States, including Gilbert Stuart’s 'Lansdowne' portrait of George Washington, the famous 'cracked plate' photograph of Abraham Lincoln and whimsical sculptures of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush by noted caricaturist Pat Oliphant. Presidents Washington, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt will be given expanded attention because of their significant impact on the office."

The debates have begun about content, meaning, inclusion and exclusion in both museums. I'll watch as those debates play out. But I did like the comment by Elizabeth Broun, director of the American Art Museum, in the Times article: "Art is not always about pretty things. It's about who we are, what happened to us and how our lives are affected."

Photograph: Andrew Councill for The New York Times.
The National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum, home to Thomas Hart Benton's "Achelous and Hercules," reopen on Saturday in Washington.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Books on American art

Frequently, museum staff gets asked by students and museum docents for book recommendations ... "I want to read more about American art. What should I go and buy?"

Most curators possess very long, extensive reading lists, but that can be overwhelming for the person with interest but who tries not to live American art 24/7. They really want me to suggest a book, not 200-plus.

This brief list focuses on 19th century American art.

Here are three books that are likely on the shelves of American art scholars, but are written in ways that make them easily accessible to a person with just an interest in art topics. They make good, entertaining reading ...

Sarah Burns, Painting the Dark Side: Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004)

A book about alcoholism, murder, grave-robbing, slave revolt, drugs, sex, family secrets, female temptresses/monsters and … art. Professor Sarah Burns discusses the gothic pattern in American paintings and its parallels to the gothic strain in American literature. She presents the biographies of landscape painter Thomas Cole and genre painter/outsider David Gilmour Blythe and their images of nature and urban spaces, respectively. Other chapters deal with the racial fears and fantasies of Washington Allston, John Quidor, and William Rimmer. Burns then presents the imaginative, gothic realism of Thomas Eakins, and fantasies of Albert Pinkham Ryder and Elihu Vedder.

John Davis, The Landscape of Belief: Encountering the Holy Land in Nineteenth-Century American Art and Culture
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996)

John Davis focuses on the nineteenth-century American painters – especially James Fairman and Frederic Church - who, along with archaeologists, evangelists, photographers, tourists, and writers, visited in biblical Holy Land. Using biblical associations, American painters (as part of the larger culture) and other visitors looked at the landscape of the Holy Land as an extension of American identity.

Elizabeth Johns, American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life
(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1991)

Elizabeth Johns studies American genre painting – scenes of “everyday life” … rustic dances, horse trading, farmers resting, cider making, etc. – and reads the images in terms of pre-Civil War American politics. Paintings by George Caleb Bingham, William Sidney Mount, Lilly Martin Spencer, and others reflect the social, religious, ethnic and political issues of antebellum America.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Picasso and War

In an article where some of the themes relate to our George Bellows exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, Alan Riding in the New York Times reviews "Picasso: Tradition and Avant-Garde." The Picasso exhibition runs through early September, and is uniquely installed in two major spaces: the Prado and the Reina Sofía Museum, Madrid's principal gallery for modern and contemporary art.

This section of Mr. Riding's Picasso review is especially relevant for the themes in our Bellows show:

In the Reina Sofía, which recently added a modern annex designed by Jean Nouvel to its 18th-century quarters in a former hospital, it is "Guernica" that holds court. This vast oil was painted in Paris in May and June 1937, immediately after the April 27 bombing of the Spanish Basque city of Guernica by the German Luftwaffe caused widespread destruction and death.

A fierce denunciation of Nazi Germany's support for Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War, the painting was displayed in the Spanish Republic's pavilion at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris and was sent on tour to raise funds for the Republican cause. When Germany occupied France in 1940, "Guernica" was in the United States. Because Picasso decreed that it could go to Spain only after Franco's death, it remained — except for some trips to Europe — at the Museum of Modern Art in New York until 1981.

Accompanying the Reina Sofía's show are some 50 preparatory drawings for "Guernica," many of them depicting Picasso's famous weeping women (although no weeping woman actually appears in "Guernica"). But at the heart of this display, in what almost resembles a shrine, are four major works: "Guernica" faces Goya's "Third of May 1808 in Madrid: The Executions on Príncipe Pío," and Manet's "Execution of Emperor Maximilian" looks out at Picasso's "Massacre in Korea."

Picasso's protest against American killings of civilians in the Korean War borrows its composition from Manet's large painting, while the central figure in Goya's work — a man in a white shirt throwing his arms in the air in despair — also appears in a stylized form in "Guernica." Yet these considerations seems less important than the emotional impact of bringing these paintings together.

They are art, but they speak about humanity.

images: Musée Picasso, Paris, top; Kunsthalle Mannheim, bottom.
At top, in a Spanish retrospective of Picasso, his "Massacre at Korea" is being shown at the Reina Sofía with "Guernica" and other antiwar works, including, above, Manet's "Execution of Emperor Maximilian."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

PodGuide: George Bellows

In trying to keep up with the "Big, Big Museums," the Georgia Museum of Art has entered the 21st Century.

We have a podguide.

This podguide is a 17-minute tour of the exhibition - Let Loose Upon Innocence: George Bellows and World War - here at the museum.

Ideally, you download the audio tour to your iPod or your mp3 player, bring it into the museum and listen to a curator give you a tour while you visit the galleries. Feel free to listen to it anywhere.

The museum is very, very thankful the University of Georgia's New Media Institute agreed to assist with the technology and to host the podguide.

The museum's web page for podguides is [here].

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The American Scene and O Brother, Where Art Thou?

In "O Brother Where Art Thou?," set in rural Mississippi of the 1930s, Joel and Ethan Coen build upon Southern mythology, traditions and culture for their movie. But American artists of the 1930s and 1940s themselves created images based upon the history, landscape, and people of the American South. These painters focused on many of the Southern themes central to the Coen's development of those same ideas in "O Brother": poverty, the chain gang, the blues, floods, baptisms, lynching and many others.

Today, the term “Regionalist” or “American scene” painter includes artists “loyal” to their respective regions, including the South. These painters studied art in the major metropolitan areas of the United States, typically New York City or Chicago, or went abroad, most often to Paris, and then returned to their “homes.” Artists active in the Midwest (most famously, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton), the Northeast and the South inclined toward strong identification with their home locales. The South also held particular interest for "traveling" artists from other regions or on projects from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.

Regionalism is strongly associated with the ideals of the New Deal and the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Artists like Benton, Wood and John Steuart Curry became nationally-known through their images of rural, local culture and its traditional values ... concerns now commonly associated with the Regionalist movement. The backing of powerful art critics like Peyton Boswell Jr. and Thomas Craven, the interest of magazines like Time, Life and The Art Digest and the support of federal art programs aided the success of regionalist painters during the era. Seen in retrospect, regionalist painters emerged in all sections of the country, painted a broad range of subjects and used a wide range of aesthetic styles. Hence, regionalism refers to an art, created in the era of the Great Depression, which imparts personal responses to a given region, yet transcends regional boundaries to comment on the nation as a whole.

The postbellum South, still largely agricultural (with cotton as its major crop), was beset by poverty and poor health conditions in rural areas. These issues were then simply magnified by the Great Depression. Segments of the South's culture and its communities became prime subjects for social documentation and artistic expression. Many artists also confronted the random and wanton lynching of blacks - the subject of an "O Brother" scene - via shocking paintings and prints.

The 1930s artists fashioned politically-charged images designed to protest against the unlawful activity. The Coens, using the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz, instead poke fun at the racists:

Homer Stokes: [as Grand Kleagle at a KKK rally] And our women, let's not forget those ladies, y'all. Looking to us for protection! From darkies, from Jews, from papists, and from all those smart-ass folks say we come descended from monkeys!

Meanwhile, baptism and flood imagery were related for artists of the Great Depression, and the Coens touch on the same motifs as well in "O Brother":

Pete: The Preacher said it absolved us.
Ulysses Everett McGill: For him, not for the law. I'm surprised at you, Pete, I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.
Delmar O'Donnell: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
Ulysses Everett McGill: That's not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi's a little more hard-nosed.

The theme of maintaining faith despite seemingly insurmountable odds serves as an underpinning for images about floods - with all their biblical and classical associations - during the 1930s. For the Coens in "O Brother," as for these 1930s painters of the rural Midwest and South, water operates as a symbol of cataclysmic change and redemption. Self-taught (folk) artists, like Clementine Hunter, continued the Southern interest in baptismal images and the importance of religion via their mid-to-late 20th century images.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Exhibit of works by Bellows shows atrocities of war

An article, by Julie Phillips in the Athens Banner-Herald, on our summer exhibitions.

Exhibit of works by Bellows shows atrocities of war
By Julie Phillips
Sunday, May 28, 2006

'Let Loose Upon Innocence" is, as its title suggests, an exhibition whose work has little mercy on its viewers - an echo of the senseless way in which war has little mercy on its victims.

We see civilians, naked and helpless, used by soldiers as human barricades; evil-faced men reaching toward a young woman as she cowers in terror, her family dead at her feet; the horror on faces of people in a small village as they fall in the midst of a massacre.

Somewhat unlike the footage we've become accustomed to, there is, in this collection of works by American artist George Bellows (1882-1925) currently on display at the Georgia Museum of Art, an unexpected sense of immediacy and intensity that shakes us as viewers.

The works - five oil paintings (two are not included in this exhibit) and 15 lithographs, along with two other paintings - were created by Bellows in a single astonishingly prolific year, 1918. They represent the artist's reaction to true accounts of German atrocities committed against Belgian civilians during World War I as detailed in the New York Times' 1915 publication of the "Bryce Committee's Report on Deliberate Slaughter of Belgian Non-Combatants."

Exhibit curator Paul Manoguerra notes Bellows, whose political leanings were evident throughout his career, was a professed socialist, but in a stance that went against his peers - and indeed would seem nearly contradictory regarding his depictions of the seeming senselessness of battle - advocated the United States' involvement in the war.

It was, Manoguerra says, a case of justifiable war for Bellows, considering the atrocious acts committed against innocent people.

"Up until the British began area bombing in World War II, the idea of waging war on civilians was against the rules of warfare," Manoguerra says. "And the shocking nature of these stories coming out of Belgium was what inspired Bellows enough to create these works."

The exhibit is the result of a loan to the museum of a particularly stunning painting by Bellows, "The Return of the Useless," described by GMOA director William Eiland in the exhibition catalog as "a work of genius." It depicts Belgians, used as slave labor, being returned by Germans to their hometowns, broken, sickened, weak and useless - essentially left to die.

Manoguerra put together the rest of the show around this piece, with the other works coming from the museum's own collection or lent from other museums.

While it's easy to draw comparisons to contemporary events - indeed to any war - Manoguerra says the intent of the show was simply to contextualize "The Return of the Useless" in Bellows' career.

And, despite the grim nature of the exhibit, there is some hope for its viewers. Presiding over the gallery are two paintings created by Bellows shortly after the close of WWI at the end of 1918. Each grand-scale piece depicts a nurse, bathed in luminous rays that shine down from the heavens as doves hover overhead. In each case she clasps the hands of a soldier. In the same way the rest of the show is Bellows' indictment of war, these works would seem the artist's indictment - or at least preference for - peace.

But the mission of the exhibit is clear, as Manoguerra says, referencing the show's title.

"As viewers, people are coming into the exhibit with a level of innocence, and the expectation that art is (always) beautiful ... this lets loose Bellows on you and shocks you out of the idea that art is always pleasant."

Photograph: George Bellows, The Return of the Useless, 1918. Oil on canvas, 59 inches x 66 inches. On loan from a charitable foundation.