Station wagons and ketchup bottles, icons and idols, diner interiors and city streets—for almost four decades, these hallmarks of American life have inspired Photorealist artists to create huge canvases and detailed prints. But Photorealism, focusing on the photograph as source and subject, does far more than just duplicate photographs. This exhibition examines how Photorealism interprets the American landscape, and highlights the nuanced and complex Photorealist working process.
Starting in the 1960s, artists such as Richard Estes and Ralph Goings began to produce paintings that referred directly to photographs they took. At a time when abstract works by artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Sol LeWitt held the world’s attention, Photorealist work was startling in its apparent simplicity. Not only did the subject matter of these paintings seem mundane and the process mechanical, but the final products still looked like snapshots from a scrapbook in Anytown, USA. Nevertheless, a wide range of artists have embraced Photorealism, including Robert Bechtle, Chuck Close, Robert Cottingham, and Audrey Flack. Photorealism, like photography, has gained acceptance in the realm of high art over the past four decades, thus attracting increasing critical attention. The Photorealist aesthetic is still referenced today by artists like Tim Gardner and Guy Johnson, making the questions inspired at Photorealism’s inception still relevant. What lies behind the desire to reproduce a photograph artistically, and why is this a largely American impulse? What multidimensional world lies beneath the flat surfaces of these seemingly uncontroversial images? How does the Photorealist process deal with the frozen moment that distances the snapshot from its social and historical context?
This exhibition is funded in part by a grant from the Cornell Council
for the Arts and a generous gift from Betsey and Alan Harris.
2004–2005 History of Art Majors’ Society
Chelsea Holden Baker
Hilary Coe Smith