Published: September 4, 2001
NEWARK, N.J.- under the title “.”
In this new permanent exhibition, some 250 years’ worth of paintings and sculpture, ranging from a Colonial-era portrait by John Singleton Copley to a Pop-era “Campbell’s Tomato Juice” box by Andy Warhol, join in revelatory combinations with objects in other media to tell the story of art and life in the United States.
“” is installed in a wing of two dozen galleries (32,000 square feet) originally designed by architect Michael Graves, which has been renovated under his supervision with new lighting and bold period colors. In this setting, the collection’s masterworks spring to life through a presentation that connects the artists’ works to broader issues in America’s history and culture.
“Our new galleries of American Art cast fresh light on a superb collection, including many important works that have been lesser known until now,” says Mary Sue Sweeney Price, director of The Newark Museum. “The galleries also interpret the works anew, so that these enduring images truly become windows onto our past.”
Since its founding in 1909, The Newark Museum has been in the forefront of collecting American art. It was among the first to specialize in the works of contemporary American artists (who at the time included John Sloan, Robert Henri, George Bellows, Max Weber, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and John Marin) and was far-sighted in presenting works by African American artists, photographers, and folk artists.
“These were radical policies,” says Sweeney Price, “and they proved to be enormously beneficial, since they led The Newark Museum to acquire one of the great collections of American art.”
“The breadth of the collection is extraordinary and the quality consistently high,” notes Joseph Jacobs, curator of American art, “with gems in every period, medium, and style.”
Walking through the Nineteenth Century
The story begins with a gallery called “Character and Class in the Colonies: Portraiture 1730-1776.” The visitor quickly understands why portraiture was the dominant genre of the Colonial era, learning in a few words who commissioned these paintings, who made them, how the works were used, and why they are visually distinctive.
The museum’s masterworks by John Singleton Copley (“Portrait of Mrs Joseph Scott,” circa 1765) and Charles Wilson Peale (“Colonel Elihu Hall,” 1773) are shown with objects such as a gravestone (1752) and a Queen Anne high chest of drawers in walnut (1740-50).
The story continues in a corridor gallery that runs the length of the first-floor wing. The first half of this gallery, “The Young Republic: Inventing a National Identity, 1790-1860,” features works in which artists reflect the character and tastes of a rapidly expanding United States.
Genre scenes of Yankee peddlers and Western frontiersmen, idealized sculptures of political figures such as John Marshall and Henry Clay, patriotic images such as William Trost Richard’s painting of “Mount Vernon” (1855) and still lifes for prosperous homes (by Raphaelle Peale and James Peale) are exhibited with period furniture and decorative arts (such as a Chinese export porcelain, enamel, and gold punchbowl). A different vision of this period comes from a group of daguerreotypes, including portraits of African-American and German-American sitters.
The galleries that open off the corridor offer deeper examinations of themes. The first pair of such galleries explores the division in the United States between city life and rural life. “Romantic Portraits for the Eastern Cities, 1790-1860” presents sophisticated, psychologically evocative paintings by artists including Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, Rembrandt Peale, Asher B. Durand, and Oliver Tarbell Eddy.
“Country Portraits, 1790-1860” presents the simpler, more candid portraits done in rural areas by Micah Williams, Ammi Phillips, and anonymous, self-taught artists, as well as objects such as a coverlet (1822) from Orange County, N.Y.
“Painting the American Landscape: The Rise of Landscaping Painting, 1825-1880” spans a triple-length gallery. Toward one side are masterworks by artists of the Hudson River School and their followers – Jasper Cropsey, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church, John Kensett – who envisioned the forests and mountains of the East Coast as a landscape infused with a spiritual presence.
Toward the other side of this room are views of the grandeur of the American West. These include paintings by Albert Bierstadt and the earliest known painted view of Yosemite Falls (1859) by William Smith Jewett; large-scale photographs by Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson; and works by Native American artists. The latter include ledger drawings of the 1870s and a Sioux vest from the late Nineteenth Century.
“The Civil War and the Gilded Age,” occupying the middle of the corridor gallery, presents some of the museum’s best-known works from the Nineteenth Century. These include Hiram Powers’ Neo-classical marble sculpture “Greek Slave” (1847) in its third version, the one that was exhibited to tens of thousands throughout the United States, including the visitors to the New York Crystal Palace of 1853.
Also on view are a 1912 cast of Augusta Saint-Gauden’s bronze “Abraham Lincoln: The Man” (1884-87); Winslow Homer’s powerful Civil War-era painting “Near Andersonville” (1865-66); and a photograph by George Bernard taken during General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Georgia campaign.
“The Lure of Europe, 1850-1900” takes visitors into a period when American artists and their patrons turned from the dream of a New World toward the sophistication of the Old. This gallery presents views of Italy by Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey, and Thomas Moran; a silver, inlaid sideboard dish in the Renaissance style by Tiffany and Company (1875); marble sculptures of mythological and historical figures by William Henry Rinehart and James Haseltine; and the extraordinary painting “The Arch of Titus” (1871), showing American artists collaborating in Rome, by George Heal, Frederic Church, and Jervis McEntee.
“The Gilded Age, 1875-1900” is densely installed to evoke the feeling of an opulent sitting room in a late Nineteenth Century home. Soft, moody landscapes (William Trost Richards’s “Twilight on the New Jersey Coast,” 1884, Thomas Moran’s “Sunset on Long Island,” 1889) are shown with exotic and fanciful subjects (Frederick Arthur Bridgman’s “Aicha, a Woman of Morocco,” 1883; Elihu Vedder’s “The Philosopher,” 1867; Albert Pinkham Ryder’s “Diana’s Hunt” (n.d.); nostalgic images (William Harnett’s “Munich Still Life,” 1884, Jennie Brownscombe’s “The Peace Ball at Fredericksburg,” 1897); and objects such as a monumental “Japanese” vase from the Rookwood Pottery, 1882.
The Nineteenth Century corridor gallery concludes with “The New Woman, 1875-1900.” Included in these images of active, outgoing women are pictures by Mary Cassatt and Winslow Homer, as well as the culminating work in this suite of galleries: the great portrait of “Mrs Charles Thursby” (circa 1897-98) by John Singer Sargent.
Walking through the Twentieth Century
The story of “” continues on the museum’s second floor with a corridor gallery titled “Into the Modern Era: The City as National Symbol, 1900-1940.” Major paintings by artists of the Ashcan School, such as Robert Henri’s “Portrait of Willie Gee” (1904) and John Sloan’s “Picture Shop Window” (1907) show how artists increasingly saw America not in the natural landscape but in bustling streets and the figures of working people.
These paintings mingle with scenes from early films from Thomas Edison’s studio (Rube and Mandy Go to Coney Island, Edwin S. Porter, 1903); later city scenes such as Jacob Lawrence’s “The Bo-Lo Game” (1937); and photographs (James VanDerZee’s “Mother Beaton on Mother’s Day,” 1934).
The first gallery that opens off the corridor is titled “Far from the Modern World: The Late Gilded Age, 1900-1925,” and includes works that offered patrons a respite from the industrial city: American Impressionist works (Childe Hassam’s “Gloucester,” 1899), scenes from other eras (Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “The Good Shepherd,” 1920), sculptures inspired by classical models, portraits of women in refined interiors.
Contrasting with this gallery is “A Modern Art for a Modern Era: the 291 Gallery, America’s First Modern Art Gallery,” which focuses on works by artists who were associated with Alfred Stieglitz’s pioneering “291.” Here, an installation that is evocative of Stieglitz’s includes works by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, and Marguerite Zorach.
A triple-span gallery titled “Faith, Fear and Failure in the Machine Age, 1920-1940” has as its centerpiece one of The Newark Museum’s most important works: Joseph Stella’s heroically scaled, five-panel abstraction “The Voice of the City of New York Interpreted” (1920-22).
Other images and objects celebrating modern industry (paintings by Charles Sheeler, photographs by Edward Steichen, a metal cocktail table by Donald Deskey) contrast with views of the troubling anonymity of city life (Edward Hopper’s “The Sheridan Theatre,” 1937) and scenes of life outside the city in the Depression era (Minetta Good’s “At the Country Auction,” 1935, Hale Woodruff’s “Poor Man’s Cotton,” 1944).
Also on view are works of American folk art, which came into vogue at this moment, partly through the pioneering efforts of The Newark Museum, as a distinctively American form of modernism. One of these works, a painted wooden cigar-store figure titled “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines” by Thomas J. White, acquired by The Newark Museum in 1924, stands in the corridor gallery at this midpoint of the installation, exactly where Hiram Powers’ “The Greek Slave” stands in the Nineteenth Century galleries.
The second half of the Twentieth Century corridor gallery, “In the Wake of the War: From the Art of Self to Art Without Boundaries, 1945-1965,” takes the visitor into an era when artists confronted a burgeoning (and often anxiety-laden) consumer culture.
Opening off the corridor, the gallery titled “The Unconscious and the Sublime: Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, 1930-1965” explores how an inward-looking, intuitive mode of art developed into bold, individualistic statements made on a public scale.
“Breaking Barriers and Challenging Conformity in the Eisenhower Era, 1955-1965” takes the story into the era of Pop and social protest. Works on views in this section of “” range from Man Ray’s “Objet Indestructible” (1923/1965) and Joseph Cornell’s “Les Constellations voisine de Pole” (1950s) through an untitled abstraction by Helen Frankenthaler (1955), Hans Hoffman’s “Laburnum II” (1959), and Robert Motherwell’s “Beside the Sea with Bulkhead” (1962), to Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Tomato Juice” (1964) and an untitled construction by Lucas Samaras (1965).
“” concludes with “Many Voices, Many Media: Art Since 1965.” This section, which will change more frequently than the rest of “,” includes works such as George Segal’s mixed-media environment “The Parking Garage” (1968), Alison Saar’s “Sweet Daddy Good Life” (1985), Elizabeth Murray’s “Arm-Ear” (1994), and Pépon Osorio’s “No Crying Allowed in the Barbershop” (1994).
Joseph Jacobs, the project director for “,” worked with a team at The Newark Museum to develop the installation. Joining in the project were Holly Pyne Connor, consulting curator to the department of American art; Lucy Brotman, director of education; Ulysses Grant Dietz, curator of decorative arts; and Stephen Hutchins, exhibition designer. Ward L.E. Mintz, deputy director for programs and collections, and David Palmer, director of exhibitions, were also members of the team.
The Newark Museum is at 49 Washington Street. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 pm, with evening hours on Thursday until 8:30 pm. Admission is free. For information, 973-596-6550.
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