Friday, February 5, 2010

After 1915: The Evolution of American Stories

American Stories closed Sunday, January 24, 2010, but the exhibition’s conclusion provides an opportunity to consider how storytelling continued to evolve in American visual media after 1915. Narratives about everyday life appeared in paintings by artists such as Edward Hopper, and, most notably, in the work of Regionalist painters such as Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood. However, with the spread of European modernism, particularly after the seminal 1913 Armory show in New York, many painters began turning from representational to abstract styles. As the emphasis on narrative decreased in painting, film emerged as an important medium for storytelling in America. Motion pictures and painting are closely linked, and in American Stories, we find several late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century works that offer a glimpse at the connections between the two media. Read more »

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Material Changes

Many of the paintings in American Stories have led remarkable lives—some have important provenances, others have appeared in notable exhibitions and publications, and still others have undergone changes in appearance over time. Environmental conditions and wear and tear can affect the way a painting looks, but sometimes the root of change lies in the very materials used to make the work. With certain media, features once hidden under layers of paint can become visible in time. In other instances, elements that were meant to be seen can vanish, at least from unaided sight. In today’s post, I’ll consider works in American Stories that have changed in significant ways, and explore how these transformations affect the tales that the objects tell. Read more »

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Seeing Multiples: Paintings as Prints

Resources like Google Images and the Met’s Collection Database provide instant access to images of a vast array of objects. But before photography—not to mention the Internet—audiences relied on prints to see images of contemporary and historical works of art. In fact, many of the paintings in American Stories also exist as prints, sometimes in thousands of impressions. In today’s post, I’ll consider how some of the works in the exhibition entered into the broader consciousness through a variety of printed forms. Read more »

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Passion for Fashion

The December holiday season is a time of giving, which also makes it, for many, a time of shopping. For several months advertisers have bombarded us with gift ideas, ranging from cars and electronics to the latest fashions. Selling fashion is big business, and many of the most prominent retailers in New York set up lavish window displays every year to entice holiday shoppers. I went on a recent excursion to see some of the city’s window displays—(see some of my photos)—and the experience reminded me of several paintings in American Stories that relate to buying and selling clothes. Read more »

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Paintings within Paintings

How do artists depict art? It’s a fascinating question, and in today’s post I’d like to consider a few examples of paintings within paintings in American Stories. How are the figures depicted in relation to works of art, and how do the depicted works themselves function within the overall narratives? There are many examples in the exhibition’s more than one hundred iconic paintings, but let’s start with depictions of art in museums: Read more »

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Paintings and Parks, for our Benefit and Enjoyment

In recent weeks, many PBS stations aired Ken Burns’s latest film, a six-part series called The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The documentary chronicles the rise of the park concept and the often dramatic struggles to preserve—for the benefit and enjoyment of the people—some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. The National Parks devotes significant attention to the ways in which both naturalists and ordinary people have responded to nature and the parks over time, which inspired me to think about the sizable group of paintings in American Stories that feature figures in landscape settings. In fact, I was struck by how much the paintings resonate with the same ideas about the American wilderness that are brought out in the documentary. Read more »

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food for Thought

With Thanksgiving approaching, I want to dedicate this week’s post to paintings in the exhibition that feature or reference food and drink. In some examples, food appears as a symbolic element, such as in the portrait of Benjamin and Eleanor Ridgely Laming—discussed in “Old Friends in a New Light”—where the peaches resting on Mrs. Laming’s lap suggest fecundity and fertility. The portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley also falls into this category, as the teapot alludes to contemporary political anxieties over the Townshend Acts and the tax on tea. Read more »

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Robert Frank and American Stories

Part of what makes the Met so extraordinary is that it facilitates encounters among masterworks from every century and every corner of the world. This fall, visitors to the Museum can encounter under a single roof two very different exhibitions devoted to scenes of everyday American life. American Stories brings together paintings by fifty-two artists that date from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century, while Looking In: Robert Frank’s The Americans celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Americans, the influential suite of black-and-white photographs that Robert Frank (American, b. Switzerland, 1924) made on a cross-country road trip in 1955–56. Read more »

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not All Fun and Games

Fall is an ideal time for American sports fans, as professional baseball, basketball, football, and hockey seasons overlap. It’s no secret that Americans love sports, and artists are no exception. American Stories features a number of iconic paintings that depict sports and games, including Thomas Eakins’s The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull) and Winslow Homer’s view of encamped Union soldiers playing a game of quoits, or horseshoes (Pitching Quoits). Read more »

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Electing To Laugh

In honor of Election Day yesterday, I want to dedicate this week’s post to a discussion of George Caleb Bingham’s painting The County Election, which is included in “Stories for the Public, 1830–1860,” the second chronological section of American Stories: Read more »