Most of the works in this exhibition were done between 1930 and the end of the 1990s, and they represent a vastly changing modern art scene in America, though some earlier artists, notably Thomas Moran, Stephen Parrish, and Frederick S. Church, are also represented.
In the late 1800s, there was a slow shift from a European-based academic training for artists to an emerging enthusiasm for an artistic style that was completely indigenous. Education in the arts was rapidly expanding all across America; even young children were taught systematically to draw well, based on simple rules found in textbooks written by men such as Arthur Wesley Dow and Denman Ross. Both Dow and Ross also attracted aspiring professionals to study with them, and both men and women, eager for this training, flocked to the many colleges and universities that were starting fine-art departments as well as to the art schools that were opening in an attempt to rival those in London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Munich.
Along with this came an interest in the actual American experience. While artists such as the Ashcan School group concentrated on the nitty-gritty of city life, others, like Peggy Bacon and Minna Citron, cast a more humorous eye on their visions of urban chaos, an attitude that can also be found in the work of contemporary artist Richard Pantell. Some extended their vision to rural communities, particularly during the Depression when the Works Progrss Administration and the Farm Security Administration kept many artists around the country employed, documenting life in their communities. Some, like George Biddle, cast a searing light on the less salubrious aspects of the times. Satirical art has a long history in this country, and Joseph Kurhajec here offers his own critique of the times in his 1988 Vote Against Bush.
One of the newest of print media, screenprint (also known as silkscreen and serigraphy), was developed for commercial purposes in the 1920s and in the 1930s was exploited by WPA artists. An important portfolio of large early screenprints, with works by Marguerite Zorach, John Whorf, Charles Burchfield, and others, is shown in its entirety in this exhibition, a fascinating glimpse at how artists experimented with the process, emphasizing the inherently bold colored inks.
The most recent works in this show reflect the Williamses’ ongoing interest with realism and some of the many artists who continued to work in this style, despite the burgeoning growth of abstraction. Fairfield Porter, Jean Schonwalter, Ivan Summers, and Carl Sprinchorn are just a few of those here whose work carried the realist tradition into the 1960s and ’70s, and today there remains a healthy interest in this style, as undoubtedly there will be for generations to come. While what is seen in this exhibition is truly only the tip of the iceberg, we are delighted that Gil and Deborah are sharing it with us.
Nancy E. Green
The Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs