Take a fascinating look at American history through the eyes of great American artists.

The other day at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, I attended a brown bag talk given by my Seton Hill colleague, Maureen Vissat, The Art of the 1940s: Styles and Influences. I had seen her present as part of a series of teaching demonstrations, so I knew her talk would be excellent. She wove interesting details from the lives of notable painters and gallerists to form an informative picture of how art and artists are made, and the dual role of the gallery as archive of what is already established and promoter of the new and innovative. Her slide show included several shots of the gallery spaces, not just close-ups of the paintings or portraits of the artists themselves.

Her talk was timed to coincide with an exhibit of American painters of the 1940s. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a permalink for this gallery, but for the moment, and presumably unitl the exhibit closes in October, there’s a description on the current exhibitions page.

[T]his exhibition reconstructs a sampling of the exhibitions of the same title organized by Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Museum of Art) from 1943 to 1949 and includes 48 paintings, of which 42 are the actual works that were selected for exhibitions over the seven-year period. These annual exhibitions of American painting replaced the Institute’s annual Carnegie International while it was suspended due to World War II.

I’ve included thumbnails of some of my favorite paintings below.

I particularly liked the juxtaposition of these two pictures, one right
above the other. Look at the chunky three-dimensonality of “Arrangement
in Form II” (Arthur Dove), where there’s hardly a single straight line.
And contrast that with a more geometrical 2-D piece that uses the same color pallet — “The Silver Tanks” (Niles Spencer).
ACFCE9.jpgI don’t know whether to think of the first picture as the raw material that will be processed to create the mechanical forms in the second picture, or whether the first picture is what’s left after nature and time unleashes its full force on the pristine and perfect (almost cartoonish) manufactured shapes in the second picture. A different arrangement of pictures wouldn’t have sparked these particular connections in my mind.

On a nearby wall, a painting that invites further reflection on the relationship between the natural and the mechanical is Arthur Osver’s “The Red Ventilator.”
Look at the little water tower to the left, and the tiny shape of
the man. That ventilator looks like it’s ready to walk off the painting
and into the gallery — not because it has photorealistic textures or
shows ray-tracing reflections and ambient diffusion shadows, but
because there’s a sense of both whimsy and menace in the incongruity —
this hulking metal object, presumably designed to keep miners alive so
they can feed our growing industrial nation, takes on — almost in
spite of itself — this organic form, like blood vessels and arteries,
or tree roots. I just love this painting.

The exhibition is open through October 19.  On Thursday, July 31, the curator, Barbara Jones. is giving a tour.  I won’t be able to attend, but I thought I’d blog about it in the hopes someone else who’s in the area will be inspired to go.