Published: November 13, 2001
HARTFORD, CONN. – The circus has captivated many American modernists and con-temporary artists. For them, the glittering spectacles beneath the “Big Top” and the performers’ private moments in its shadows were filled with metaphoric potency.
“The Circus In Twentieth-Century American Art,” at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art through January 6, includes works by George Bellows, Alexander Calder, John Steuart Curry, Charles Demuth, Walt Kuhn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Everett Shinn from the first half of the last century; and Diane Arbus, Rhona Bitner, Lisette Model and Bruce Nauman from the recent past. Encompassing painting, sculpture, prints, photography and video, the special exhibition features nearly 100 works by these and other artists.
In the early Twentieth Century, the circus offered a vicarious escape from everyday life. It teemed with ceaseless motion, virtuosity and peril, breathtaking glamour and the grotesque. It was a close-knit community, a tent city, a migrant microcosm of urban society.
Among its stars were Clyde Beatty, the lion tamer; aerialist Alfredo Codona (who inspired the popular song “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”); the Reiffenach Sisters, who were bareback riders; Hugo Zacchini, the “human cannonball”; and sensationalist sideshow performers or “human prodigies,” such as the fat lady Baby Ruth, and the microcephalic women “Pip and Flip, Twins from Yucatan.”
Of course, there were grease-painted tramps, whiteface clowns with bulbous red noses, and the ringmaster in top hat who conducted the pageantry amid the spotlights and the sawdust. Images of these legendary performers abound in this exhibition.
Following its Hartford show-ing, the exhibition travels to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., February 1 through April 14, and to the Austin (Texas) Museum of Art, June 7 through August 19.
A catalog Images from the World Between: The Circus in Twentieth-Century American Art, co-published by The MIT Press and the AFA, accompanies the exhibition.
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 600 Main Street, is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am to 5 pm, and on the first Thursday of each month (except December) until 8 pm. For information, 860-278-2670 or www.wadsworthatheneum.org.
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