Every year, the Florence Griswold Museum offers a 10-week course taught by its assistant curator. Discussion turned to having this year's course focus on art movements - which sparked an idea in curator Amy Kurtz Lansing.
"I thought, 'This would be a great idea for an exhibition as well,'" she says. "Even if you can't sign up for the class, we thought the exhibition could be kind of an introduction to art history, in a way, through these artistic movements."
That exhibition is "...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries," which is on view at the Old Lyme museum through June 10.
The show is divided into various artistic movements and styles, offering succinct explanations of each and then showcasing examples from the museum's permanent connection and selected loans.
"So many people go to museums, and they read these terms - Impressionism, modernism - and curators assume everybody knows what they mean. But I think that they don't," Kurtz Lansing says.
They will after this exhibition. Some visitors have asked for print-outs of wall texts so they can bring home the descriptions of the various "isms."
But for those of you who haven't gone, here are a couple of examples.
Modernism, which dates back to the 1860s, was, in a lot of ways, "art for art's sake." Abstraction became a huge element, with the whole notion of recognizable subject matter disappearing entirely. One of the Modernist pieces featured in "isms" is Sol LeWitt's "Wavy Horizontal Brushstrokes," whose title explains just what it looks like.
Regionalism, on the other hand, grew from a number of factors in the early 20th century, including a resistance to foreign influences and the impact of the Great Depression. As the exhibition wall text explains, those elements "turned many American artists inward, looking for a way to depict American scenes in American ways. Heroic midwestern subjects by John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, and others formed a 'Regionalist' antidote to the increasingly modern art of the cities."
Grant Wood's "American Gothic" is a classic example of Regionalism. The Flo Gris show spotlights a number of Regionalist work, including Stephen Howard's "Judge Marvin's Barn," which depicts barns and outbuildings on a Lyme historic property owned by William Marvin. The exhibition notes that New England artists working in this style often "composed elegiac works in tribute to the passing of the region's rural agrarian roots."
While the exhibition details a variety of "isms," Kurtz Lansing points out that there can be significant crossover.
"I didn't want people to leave the exhibition thinking, 'OK, I know where all these things fit.' We did want people to realize that, although (a piece) could fit into one category, it could also fit into another category," she says.
This is the first time the Flo Gris has connected the subject of a class to an exhibition in its galleries.
"Not everybody can fit into a chair in the lecture room, but everybody can come and learn many of the same points by seeing the exhibition. So it's sort of a self-guided course," Kurtz Lansing says.
"...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries" runs through June 10 at the Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 1-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 students, free ages 12 and under. For more information, call (860) 434-5542 or visit flogris.org.