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: Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art


Kathleen M. Bennewitz



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Beginning with an 11th-century Mimbres earthenware bowl and ending with Chuck Close's 1970 painting Keith, the special exhibition "Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art" weaves together many strands that form the rich creative tapestry of American culture. This exciting survey, on view in the Dayton Hudson gallery from February 5 to April 30, 1995, presents a glorious treasury of American masterpieces. Instead of the conventional Eurocentric approach to art, "Made in America" highlights the contributions of the many African-American, Native American, and Euro-American artists who, for more than 1,000 years, have helped forge our artistic heritage."Made in America" features 160 masterworks in a wide range of media and drawn from the collections of five participating museums: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City), and the Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh). Six years ago this consortium presented "Impressionism: Selections from Five American Museums," an exhibition that attracted record numbers of visitors at each site. The overwhelming response to that show inspired its organizers to develop a successor. The result is "Made in America," which may well represent the greatest assemblage of American painting, not to mention other fine-arts media, in the Midwest since the Chicago World's Fair of 1933.The exhibition is divided into eight sections that chronicle the story of American art and culture from ancient to modern times: "Ancient America," "Colonial and Federal America," Democratic Vistas," "American Impressions," "Native American Art," "Artistic Interiors," "The Modern Age," and "Art after World War II." Within each section, visitors can view an array of objects—paintings, sculpture, pottery, decorative arts, textiles, and photographs—by more than 150 artists, both celebrated and lesser-known figures. Included among the familiar names are Paul Revere, Benjamin West, Frederic Church, Alfred Stieglitz, Frederic Remington, Mary Cassatt, Frank Lloyd Wright, Winslow Home, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O'Keeffe, Dorothea Lange, Romare Bearden, Maria Martinez, David Smith, and Andy Warhol.To Kate Johnson, the chair of the Institute's educational division, the show contains "everything from soup to nuts" and reflects the organizing institutions' desire to create an inclusive exhibition. In planning the exhibition and catalog, this "concern for diversity was always in the back of our minds," adds Johnson. Both exhibition and catalog pose the question "What is American art?," but neither attempts to answer it, Instead, as the consortium museum directors have jointly stated, the purpose of the effort is to revise our thinking about how we, as individuals and as members of the community, should approach American art and use our rich visual history to learn "about both our past and, through reflection, our present, maybe even our future."After it Minneapolis debut, "Made in America" will travel to the other four consortium museums, giving to each host community the opportunity to enjoy another major exhibition of extraordinary quality and broad appeal. It also gives visitors a chance to see familiar objects from their own local museum in a new setting and combined with works of art from the other participating institutions.Just as important, the exhibition provides a social and artistic context that many of the museums' permanent-collection galleries do not always offer. Show organizers believe that the chronological and thematic arrangement of objects of different media will make the visitor keenly aware of the range of creative expression and ideas that flourished throughout the country's history. For example, in "Art after World War II," works executed in 1963 are grouped together to draw attention to the provocative issues both artists and American society at large were confronting that year: Andy Warhol's pop icon Double Elvis hangs next to Gordon Park's Malcolm X, Harlem and across from Robert Rauschenberg's Tracer, which alludes to America's involvement in Vietnam. Elsewhere in this gallery a vinyl-coated-steel wire chair designed by Harry Bertoia in 1956 is displayed beside a 1950 earthenware plate by Maria Martinez of the San Ildefonso Pueblo.Since most of the works in "Made in America" have never before been shown together, their juxtapositions invite comparisons that are, according to Kate Johnson, "full of ironies and contradictions that will help visitors discover multiple layers of meaning." For example, the first gallery of the show reveals what Johnson considers the "darker side of American history": Pottery made by Native Americans during the 11th to 17th centuries is displayed next to paintings and decorative arts from Colonial and Federal America, an age when Euro-Americans were exploiting the people native to the so-called New World. In the "Democratic Vistas" section, George Caleb Bingham's The County Election offers a cynical commentary on the unsavory politics that tainted America in the early 1850s and provides a startling counterpoint to Thomas Cole's The Architect's Dream of 1840, which portrays an idealized world imagined by a romantic genius.One benefit of a consortium arrangement is that it makes available a wealth of resources for organizing and mounting an extremely ambitious exhibition. The consortium model allows the participating museums to share both the expenses and the major responsibilities entailed—from arranging transportation of works of art to grant writing to managing the finances and budget. Besides having access to the outstanding art collections of five superb museums, each collaborating partner could tap the knowledge and creative ideas of the other four museum staffs as well. For instance, the Institute and The Saint Louis Museum of Art worked together to publish the fully illustrated catalog, while The Carnegie Museum of Art produced a 15-minute educational video to complement "Made in America." More than 25 curators contributed their expertise by writing concise entries on works of art from their museum's collection or general essays on the social and artistic milieu for the catalog. "Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art" clearly demonstrates what can happen when five partners pool their resources—artistic, financial, imaginative, and administrative—to produce an extraordinary exhibition.Kathleen Motes Bennewitz is the Institute's educational-materials writer.This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional funding has been provided by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.Promotional support has been provided by Target stores.Related ImagesWinslow Homer, 1836-1910. The Country School,1871. Oil on canvas. The Saint Louis Art Museum, purchase.New Mexico, Mongollon, Mimbres, Bowl, about 1000-1200, earthenware and pigment, the Saint Louis Art Museum, purchase.Chuck Close (born 1940), Keith, 1970, the Saint Louis Art Museum, purchase, funds given by the Shoenberg Foundation, Inc.Louis H. Sullivan, 1856-1924, and George G. Elmslie, 1871-1952, designers. Bank Teller's Wicket, 1907-8. The National Farmer's Bank, Owatonna, Minnesota. Copper-plated cast iron. The Toledo Museum of Art, purchased with funds from the Florence Scott Libbey Bequest in memory of her father, Maurice A. Scott.Andy Warhol (1928-87), Double Elvis, 1963, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen on canvas, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., lent by the Estate of Andy Warhol.Gordon Parks (born 1912), Malcolm X, Harlem, 1963, gelatin silver print, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund.Footed Pitcher, 1835-50. Probably New York State. Non-lead glass, blown and tooled with applied decoration. The Toledo Museum of Art, purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, gift of Edward Drummond Libbey.George Caleb Bingham (1811-79), The County Election, 1851-52, oil on canvas, the Saint Louis Art Museum, purchase.Thomas Cole (1801-48), The Architect's Dream, 1840, oil on canvas, the Toledo Museum of Art, purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, gift of Edward Drummond Libbey.Dorothea Lange, 1895-1965. White Angel Breadline, San Francisco, 1933. Gelatin silver print. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the John R. Van Derlip Fund.Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1848-1907. Victory, 1892-1903, cast about 1912. Gilded bronze. The Carnegie Museum of Art, purchase.Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1764-1820, designer. Klismos Chair, 1808. White oak, yellow poplar, white pine, cane, and reproduction silk fabric. The Saint Louis Art Museum, purchase: funds given by the Decorative Arts Society in honor of Charles E. Buckley.John Singer Sargent, 1856-1925. Mrs. Cecil Wade (Frances Frew Wade), 1886. Oil on canvas. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation.
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Source: Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, "Made in America: Ten Centuries of American Art. Five Museums produce a special exhibition by pooling their prize works of art that originated on this continent," <i>Arts</i> 18, no. 2 (February 1995): 5-9.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009