MMoA exhibit draws on works by renowned American artists
Special to The Day
All art essentially begins with drawing — and the Mystic Museum of Art is exhibiting some of the finest drawings by American artists created between the late 18th and early 21st centuries.
The works on paper reflect the times in which the artists lived, from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance to today, and the places they lived, from Manhattan to Maine to the Midwest.
On loan from an anonymous collector in New York, the exhibit aptly is titled “Drawn From a Private Collection: Works on Paper from 1880-2009.”
Curated by George King, MMoA’s new executive director — who previously served as director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Katonah Museum of Art and the American Federation of Arts — the exhibit was timed to coincide with the former Mystic Art Center’s new name and museum status.
Included in the 27 works on paper are many styles and subject matters, including “Schooners Offshore,” 1880, in pencil and gouache by Winslow Homer, whose representational work is considered uniquely American, and “No Title, 2009,” a photogravure diptych by conceptual artist Fred Wilson of a museum floor plan.
King notes that although drawings were traditionally meant to be studies for larger, completed works of art, as our definition and understanding of art has expanded, drawings may be considered completed works, as evidenced by the pieces in this exhibition.
He selected the works in the show from more than 500 pieces in the private collection, to fit under the umbrella of “American Modernism.”
“I thought about including artists (not all) that fall in that moniker and over a period of well over 100 years, and that are all works on paper,” he says. “It’s not a large exhibition and I tried to make it representative in this kind of space — (to reflect) the diversity of African-American artists, men, women …”
Commenting on works in the show by internationally prominent artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, King notes that her charcoal drawing in the exhibit, “Backyard at 65th Street,” c. 1920, is an unusual piece by the first woman (in 1946) to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
“It’s not as popular as her flower paintings, but she did some incredible paintings of New York City when she lived there,” he says.
King also is pleased to have three drawings by Edward Hopper, known for his depictions of American city life during the 1920s and ’30s, in the show: the charcoal drawing “Model on a Chair,” c. 1900-06, and two drawings in Conté crayon — “Man Seated in an Interior,” 1958-1965, and “Nude (Portrait of Jo), undated.
“They’re all lonely figures looking off at a distance, and we wonder what they’re thinking,” King says. “Like his paintings, they’re about loneliness of time and life.”
Another artist that King is happy to be exhibiting is Kara Walker, a contemporary artist who explores themes of race, gender and violence in her works and is most well known for her scenes of the Antebellum South. Walker’s provocative piece, “Crest of Pine Mountain, Where General Polk Fell,” 2005, is a print on paper that she created using her chosen medium of black paper cutouts, making an ironic connection to Victorian silhouettes — a popular pastime among the American middle class.
“Walker uses cut-outs to aesthetically seduce the viewer,” King observes, “before subverting the polite medium with violent and graphic depictions of figures representing slaves and slave owners.”
One of the things King says he was most interested in doing when he came to the museum 10 months ago was merging its history with its future.
“We do a lot of juried exhibitions and we’ll continue to do those,” he promises, “but they’re going to be blended, if you will, with more scholarly curated exhibitions, and this (show) is my first effort in that.”
King mentions that in terms of the physical plan of the museum, renovations have been underway, starting with the Otto E. Liebig Gallery where the drawing exhibit is displayed.
“You’ll see other galleries (in the museum) have an oatmeal colored ‘rug’ on the walls,” King says. “There’s a practical aspect for hanging (the work), but it doesn’t enhance the art at all. We got funding for this exhibit to take the ‘rug’ off the walls and paint them, which gives the viewers a much better impression (of the art). We’re now working on raising money to do the same thing in the rest of the spaces.”
King says that showing this caliber of art is a boon for the local/regional artists that exhibit at MMoA, who can now say they’re showing in the same galleries as renowned artists.
“None of these artists have ever shown in this institution before,” King points out. “This is the first time we’ve had this level and quality (of art). In the future we will have more shows of artists who are internationally recognized, either curated by me or guest curated.”
Special upcoming museum events include Art After Dark, a family-friendly Tuesday night concert series featuring Pizzetta pizza, drinks, live art and live music. All Art After Dark events are held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on the MMoA riverfront patio. Admission is $15 non-members; $12 members; $3 children 4-12; children 3 and younger are free. Two-hour parking vouchers are included with admission.
Art After Dark 2016 schedule:
April 9 - Live music by Will Evans, live art by Katie Faille
May 17 - Live music by The New Talks, live art by Sarah Stifler Lucas
July 19 - Live music by Marcy Kelly Trio, live art by Sam Brown
Aug. 16 - Live music by Wooly Mammoth, live art by Mary Horrigan
Sept. 29 - Live music by Green Tea, live art by Russ Kramer
Oct. 18 - Live music by Crows Toes, live art by Lisa Adams
MMoA is at 9 Water St. in downtown Mystic. For more information, call (860) 536-7601 or visit www.mysticmuseumofart.org.