Published: October 16, 2001
BROOKLYN, N.Y. The new presentation integrates for the first time important objects from the museum’s collections of paintings and sculpture, decorative arts, Spanish colonial art, and Native American material. “American Identities: A Reinterpretation of American Art at the BMA” is the first phase in creating the Luce Center for American Art. It will be followed in 2002 with a new public study center adjacent to the existing galleries that will make available to the public an additional 3,000 objects.
“American Identities” is installed in 12,000 square feet of gallery space on the fifth floor of the museum’s East Wing and includes nearly 200 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper ranging from colonial portraits to distinguished works by artists such as John Singleton Copley, Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, and John Singer Sargent, to Twentieth Century paintings by Stuart Davis, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Diebenkorn, Barbara Kruger, and others.
These works are complemented by more than 125 related holdings representing the depth and quality of the museum’s decorative arts collections, among them furniture, ceramics, silver, Tiffany objects, textiles, Spanish colonial material, and Native American objects.
The installation of the show is thematic and intended to present the concerns of daily life as expressed and reflected in works of art. It also includes contemporaneous photographs; and four film and video stations throughout the galleries, where short period films related to the themes play on a continuous loop. Text panels explore each of the themes, and for the first time, descriptive labels accompany many of the individual works, as well as statements from artists and members of the museum’s community and commentary from period literature. Highlights from the collection are also included in an audio tour of the entire permanent collection.
The new presentation begins with an “Orientation Section” that includes Asher B. Durand’s “The First Harvest in the Wilderness”; Francis Guy’s “Winter Scene in Brooklyn,” which illustrates Brooklyn’s racial diversity in the early Nineteenth Century and was one of the first works to enter the collection; Georgia O’Keeffe’s rendering of the Brooklyn Bridge; and a basket made by the last living Brooklyn Canarsie Indian.
“From Colony to Nation” explores the transformation of colonial societies into an emerging nation in search of a symbolic and stylistic identity. Works on view include portraits by painters such as John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale, along with objects including an Eighteenth Century silver tankard made in New York; a pair of early Nineteenth Century Sèvres vases adorned with portraits of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; and a door and doorframe from a Brooklyn house; as well as Spanish colonial material.
“Inventing American Landscape” deals with the development of the American tradition of landscape painting in the Nineteenth Century and its continuing role in expressing the national identity. Among the works in this section are Albert Bierstadt’s monumental “A Storm in the Rocky Mountains – Mount Rosalie” and Thomas Cole’s “A View of the Two Lakes Mountain House, Catskill Mountains Morning,” along with such Twentieth Century works as Arthur B. Dove’s “Flat Surfaces”; Richard Diebenkorn’s non-objective “Ocean Park No. 27”; and Pat Steir’s “Everlasting Waterfall.”
“Home Life,” which explores how Americans have defined their daily customs from the early Republic to the present, includes works such as George Caleb Bingham’s genre frontier landscape “Shooting for the Beef”; Eastman Johnson’s urban interior “Not at Home”; Larry Rivers’s “July”; Florine Stettheimer’s evocation of ennui, “Heat”; a Herter Brothers mantel from the Sloan Griswold House that has not been on view for a quarter century; along with Nineteenth and Twentieth Century still-life paintings; household objects and furniture; and works by women of the Arts and Crafts movement.
The visual culture of the Civil War is examined in “A Nation Divided.” Included is Alexander Pope’s “Emblems of the Civil War”; Eastman Johnson’s “Ride for Liberty”; Hiram Power’s masterwork in the history of American Neo-classical 1869 sculpture, “The Greek Slave,” which came to be interpreted as an expression of anti-slavery sentiments; and related contemporary works such as Melvyn Edwards’s “Lynch Fragment.”
Post Civil War expansion of American worldliness and the fascination with the exotic are dealt with in the section “Crossing Borders.” The new and energetic eclecticism in artistic styles and subjects is represented by works such as Frederic Church’s “Tropical Scenery”; William Merritt Chase’s “The Moorish Warrior”; and Edwin Lord Weeks’s “The Old Blue-Tiled Mosque Outside of Delhi, India”; as well as by objects such as a chest of drawers in the Japanese style made of woven cane, bamboo, and brass, which was sold on Fulton Street in Brooklyn.
“Art Making” is an examination of the artistic process from folk art to academic figure styles and includes material as diverse as Edward Hicks’ “The Peaceable Kingdom”; the African American folk sculptor William Edmondson’s “Angel”; Louise Bourgeois’ “Decontractee”; Gaston Lachaise’s monumental “Standing Woman”; Alex Katz’s “Ann”; the folk art “Giraffe Head”; a Kwakiutl male potlatch figure; and a side chair decorated with gold stenciled swans.
“The Centennial Era” examining visual culture from the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia through the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, includes George Inness’s “Sunrise”; Winslow Homer’s “In the Mountains”; Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s “Amor Caritas”; Cheyenne ledger book drawings; the Union Porcelain Works masterpiece “Century Vase,” which was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition and depicts icons such as bison heads and the American eagle; as well as Native American ceramics, clothing, and basketry.
“Modern Life” focuses on the transformation of American life and landscape through technology, urbanization, and successive waves of immigration. This evolution was manifested in representations of industry and cities, the introduction of a machine aesthetic, and new artistic methods and styles.
Among the works in this section are new interpretations of natural forces such as Adolph Gottlieb’s “Premonition of Evil”; Stuart Davis’ abstract masterpiece “The Mellow Pad,” which captures the movement of the jazz music he loved; Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (We Are Notifying You of a Change of Address)”; and objects such as Norman Bel Geddes’s “Skyscraper Cocktail Set”; a 1930a RCA Victor portable phonograph; and a Frank Lloyd Wright side chair.
This project was organized by a team of BMA curators: Teresa A. Carbone (project director), Dr Linda S. Ferber, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art and chair of the department of American art; Dr Barbara Dayer Gallati, curator of American painting and sculpture; Dr Barry Harwood, curator of decorative arts; Charlotta Kotik, curator of contemporary art; and Susan Kennedy Seller, assistant curator of arts of the Americas. Vice director of education Dr Joel Hoffman played a major role in the project. Matthew Yokobosky designed the reinstallation.
“American Identities: A Reinterpretation of American Art at the BMA” is supported by a generous grant from the Independence Community Foundation and is the first phase in creating the Luce Center for American Art.
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