American Made: 250 Years of American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
"American Made: 250 Years of American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston" Presents a Revelatory Look at the MFAH Collections of American Art for the First Time in History
From Revere, Copley, Audubon and Cassatt to O’Keeffe, Steichen, Pollock and Noguchi: A rare chance for visitors to experience the full range of the museum’s collections, including highlights from Bayou Bend and Rienzi
Houston—July 2012—For the first time in the history of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the MFAH presents a comprehensive display of its collections of American art: paintings, sculpture, photography, watercolors, prints, furniture, ceramics, metals, textiles and costume. Drawn from collections at Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, Rienzi and the MFAH, American Made: 250 Years of American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston features artworks associated geographically with the British and Spanish North American colonies; the United States of America, including the art of Native Americans; and Mexico. As much as American Made emphasizes a rich variety of media, it also highlights the act of making things—using tools such as brushes, chisels, cameras, knives, gouges, kilns, looms and sewing needles—for utilitarian purposes, private enjoyment and public display.
Organized by Emily Ballew Neff, MFAH curator, American Painting and Sculpture; and Christine Gervais, MFAH associate curator, Decorative Arts and Rienzi, American Made will be installed on the first floor of the museum’s Audrey Jones Beck Building, and it will be on view from July 7, 2012, through January 1, 2013.
“American Made reflects a complete rethinking and remix of the MFAH American art holdings, and the first time in history that we have brought together works in virtually all media,” said Gary Tinterow, MFAH director. “By presenting the full range of our collections, including a substantial legacy of gifts in this area, the show also demonstrates the foresight of generous collectors, who, even before our first building opened in 1924, ensured that Houston would have a great collection of American art.”
“In this sweeping exhibition, visitors will encounter a world of ideas about the natural world, race, class, war, religion, beauty, cities, materialism and achievement as expressed by compelling objects, regardless of their size, material or intended use,” commented Neff.
“American Made presents a window onto the depth and richness of the collection across many areas of the MFAH holdings,” said Gervais. “Through painting, sculpture, textiles, photographs and furnishings, we have attempted to capture the extraordinary creativity and achievement of American artists over more than two centuries.”
Among the paintings, one of the earliest is Joseph Badger’s Portrait of John Gerry (1745) depicting a child in a rose-colored wool coat. The coat descended with the painting—an extraordinary example of an 18th-century costume surviving with the portrait in which it is featured—and will be on view with the portrait. Mid-19th-century landscapes by Hudson River School artists, including Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt, provide an overview of 19th-century romantic landscape traditions, which firmly linked American identity with the land. A recent acquisition, Constant Mayer’s epic painting Recognition: North and South (1865), alludes to the horror and devastation of the Civil War, while also revealing the artist’s European-style mode of history painting applied to an American subject. Major works by Impressionists include Mary Cassatt’s Children in a Garden (1878) and Childe Hassam’s Rainy Midnight (late 1890s). American Regionalism is represented by Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, and early-20th-century modern paintings include two Georgia O’Keeffes (c. 1923 and 1938) and paintings and works on paper by Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky and Barnett Newman. Sculptures by artists such as Frederic Remington, Elie Nadelman, Alexander Archipenko, Richmond Barthé and David Smith—including cast bronze, carved wood and welded steel—show a broad range of artistic methods of working in three dimensions.
Presented with the paintings is a range of furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork and other decorative-arts objects, providing a three-dimensional context for the exhibition’s themes. Early American craftsmanship is represented in an 18th-century, Boston-made High Chest of Drawers (1730–60) and in examples of wares made for tea—the new (and soon to be contentious) drink—including a tea caddy by Simeon Soumain (c. 1738) and a cream pot by Jacob Hurd (c. 1740–55). Among the 19th-century highlights are a monumental sideboard from the Northeast, covered in lavish carvings that feature images of the hunt, and a rare Gothic Revival settee from the Gulf Coast region. Objects by the great American glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany include a peacock-feather vase (c. 1892) and a dragonfly-themed chandelier (c. 1906). Twentieth-century objects include three earthenware vases (c. 1900–1910) by George Ohr, the “Mad Potter of Biloxi"; Isamu Noguchi’s Radio Nurse (1937–42); and George Nelson’s midcentury modern Comprehensive Storage System with Desk (1960).
Significant textiles are featured at intervals throughout the exhibition, including a rare Baltimore album quilt (c. 1840s), originally from the Rockefeller collection, appliquéd with a Lone Star; a late-19th-century Navajo wool blanket; and a quilt stitched from denim clothing in the 1950s by Lutisha Pettway, one of the Gee’s Bend quilters whose work was first presented at the MFAH in the renowned 2002 exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.
Photographs in American Made include a 1907 James Van Der Zee portrait of his wife and daughter; a Man Ray Rayograph (1925); Margaret Bourke White’s RCA Speakers (1930); Edward Steichen’s 1931 portraits of Ethel Merman and Martha Graham; Alfred Stieglitz’s famous 1935–36 image of the Manhattan skyline, From the Shelton Building, Looking West; and 20 photographs from Robert Frank’s renowned 1955–56 series The Americans. Of special interest is Paul Strand’s and Charles Sheeler’s 1921 silent film Manhatta, considered to be the first American avant-garde film.
In addition, on loan to the MFAH from a private collection is a rare edition of John James Audubon’s legendary The Birds of America, a set that descended in the family of the Dukes of Portland. Each week during the run of the exhibition, the pages will be turned to feature a different American bird, beginning with the American flamingo. Three other major loans include a silver teapot and stand made by Paul Revere, Jr. (c. 1790–1800); an 18th-century Spanish Colonial painting, Virgin of Guadalupe, by Mexican artist José di Alcíbar; and several masterworks of mid- and late-19th-century painting by Eastman Johnson, Thomas Moran, William Merritt Chase and John Henry Twachtman.
Exhibition Organization and Support
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Generous funding is provided by the Kinder Foundation. Education programs for this exhibition are made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Michael C. Linn.
About the MFAH
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, theater, two art schools and two libraries, with two house museums, for American and European decorative arts, nearby. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers more than 64,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present.
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