Grant Wood (1891-1942), American Gothic, 1930, Oil on beaver board, 30-11/16 x 25-11/16,", Art Institute of Chicago; Friends of the American Art Collection, 1930.394, Photograph © The Art Institute of Chicago. Photograph by Bob Hashimoto, All rights reserved by the Estate of Nan Wood Graham/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
John Steuart Curry (1897-1946), Kansas Cornfield, 1933, Oil on canvas, 60-3/8 x 38-3/8", Wichita Art Museum, The Roland P. Murdock Collection, M1.39, Image courtesy the Wichita Art Museum.
Des Moines Art Center
4700 Grand Avenue
Anna K. Meredith Gallery
After Many Springs:
Regionalism, Modernism & the Midwest
January 30-May 17, 2009
After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism & the Midwest is the first exhibition to address the artistic battles that took place in New York and the Midwest during the 1930s and the early 1940s. It provides a fresh look at two art periods, regionalism and modernism, through not only works of art but also ephemera such as magazines, books, films, and exhibition notices. It is hoped that the project will start a dialogue about these two movements, collapsing current distinctions between them.
In the midst of the Great Depression, one of the most controversial artistic debates emerged, one that pitted modernist artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Charles Sheeler, and Philip Guston, against regionalist artists who sought a revival of tradition, such as Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood. The regionalist artists fought against abstraction, believing that American subjects should be conveyed only by straightforward, recognizable imagery.
While Benton would become one of the most vocal spokespersons for the movement that became known as regionalism, his painting, like that of Wood, actually had its origins in abstraction and the modernist movement. Guest curator Debra Bricker Balken notes that Benton explicitly stated, “I believe the representation of objective forms and the representation of abstract ideas of form to be of equal artistic value.” She goes on to say, “Benton realized . . . that he would never be able to fully comprehend a devotion to abstract painting, finding its mission both too utopian and too speculative for him, as it lacked the foundation of tried traditions that figures such as Michelangelo had long since established.”
Drawing on the work of artists such as Benton, Curry, and Wood, as well as Margaret Bourke-White, Guston, Dorothea Lange, Pollock, Ben Shahn, Sheeler, and others, After Many Springs aims to rethink such terms as regionalism and modernism. While these movements are usually seen as opposites, this exhibition aims to challenge that perception by highlighting the various formal and thematic correspondences that subtly weave them together.
Comprised of painting, photography, and documentary film, the works in this exhibition portray not only the Midwest landscape, but convey complex issues prevalent in the Depression era, including poverty, racism, and ecological devastation. Approximately seventy-five works of art and ephemera will be presented. The complete project includes the exhibition, a significant publication of approximately 200 pages which will be distributed internationally through Yale University Press, extensive marketing strategies, and a wide variety of educational outreach programs.
After Many Springs is organized by guest curator Debra Bricker Balken (who is nationally known for her work on American modernism) and Art Center Director Jeff Fleming.
Works on view include Thomas Hart Benton’s After Many Springs, Grant Wood’s American Gothic (on view through March 29), Jackson Pollock’s The Flame, John Steuart Curry’s Kansas Cornfield, Charles Sheeler’s Classic Landscape, Margaret Bourke-White’s Oliver Chill Plow series, Pare Lorentz’s The Plow that Broke the Plains, and Arthur Rothstein’s Farmer and Sons in Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma.
After Many Springs is accompanied by a catalogue that includes a foreword and acknowledgements by Jeff Fleming, director of Des Moines Art Center and an essay by Guest-curator Debra Bricker Balken. The publication includes a checklist, index, and color plates of all featured works (approximately 75 in total). Yale University Press is distributing the catalogue.
The exhibition is possible by the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. Additional support has been provided by Roberta and Howard Ahmanson; an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities; Hometown Perry, Iowa; Humanities Iowa; the Iowa Arts Council; the Robert Lehman Foundation; the Meredith Corporation Foundation; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the Principal Financial Group Foundation, Inc. The views and opinions expressed by this exhibition and related programming do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities Iowa or the National Endowment for the Humanities.