Henry Art Gallery

University of Washington / Seattle, WA




Shifting Ground: Transformed Views of the American Landscape

February 10 - August 20, 2000


The American perception of "the land" has been a vastly changing one over the last one hundred and fifty years. The advent of train travel, industrialization, rapid urban growth, and the popularization of the automobile, the computer and development of mass communications have all had effects on the collective view of the land we inhabit. Using technology as "a frame," "Shifting Ground: Transformed Views of the American Landscape" traces the impact of these technologies and the trends in perception that they have spurred. (left: Homer Dodge Martin (1836-1897), On Lake Ontario, 1875, oil on canvas, 12 1/4 x 21 1/4 inches, Henry Art Gallery, Horace C. Henry Collection, FA26.87)

"Shifting Ground" examines the evolving relationship that Americans have with the land as reflected through selected works from the last 150 years of American landscape art. Dramatic physical alterations, uses and experiences of the American landscape are made visible through the work of more than seventy-five artists from Winslow Homer to Jessica Bronson. The exhibition, curated by Associate Curator and Luce Fellow Rhonda Lane Howard and organized by the Henry Art Gallery, brings important works from the Henry's permanent collection together with works from the Addison Gallery of American Art, the Yale University Art Gallery and selected works from other private and public collections. "Shifting Ground" is on view in the North Galleries through August 20, 2000. (left: Winslow Homer, An Adirondack Lake, 1870, oil on canvas, 24 1//4 x 38 1/4 inches, Henry Art Gallery, Horace C. Henry Collection; right: Oscar Bluemner, Radiant Night, 1933, oil on canvas, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, photo: Greg Harris)

The second half of the nineteenth century was a period of remarkable innovation and invention, particularly in the arenas of transportation and communication technologies. Widespread industrialization and new developments in modes of transportation were catalysts in a recasting of the land's role in the American mind. A wilderness previously perceived as impenetrable and foreboding, metamorphosed into an inviting and picturesque setting for recreation. The industrial revolution, while helping to shepherd in the recreation movement, truly set in motion the land's eventual rampant degradation. In due course, currents of environmentalism prompted a rediscovery of the landscape and nature's splendor and an attempt to rebuild what industrialization had left ravaged. Throughout the history of the United States, artists have reacted to technological advances and physical changes in the land and their art has reflected shifts in collective American perception. (left: William Trost Richards. A View in the Adirondacks, c. 1857. Oil on canvas. 30 1/8 x 44 1/4 inches. Henry Art Gallery, gift of J.W. Clise, photo: Steven Young)

"Shifting Ground" includes works in a variety of media - paintings, photographs, drawings, prints and new media works - that illustrate technology's physical impact on the landscape and chronicle the changing American perception of the land. Nineteenth-century technological advances gave Americans the power to tame the wilderness and led the birth of industrialization and urbanization. While many landscape artists at the end of the nineteenth century attempted to escape this technological chaos by taking romantic retreats, the artists of the first half of the twentieth century reconciled these dynamic forces by celebrating them. Painters such as William Merritt Chase, George Inness and Winslow Homer, among others, presented a landscape of quiet retreat and beauty, while artists including Berenice Abbott, Stuart Davis, Arthur G. Dove, Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler and Grant Wood captured the intensity and complexity of urban, regional, industrial and suburban life in their landscapes. (left: Cameron Martin,. Untitled, (CMO54), 1999. Oil on canvas. 36" x 48". Courtesy of the artist and Howard House, Seattle)

By the middle of the twentieth century, virtual "windows onto the world" - the television, the automobile and the airplane - had transformed perceptions of the American landscape and had reshaped artists' frame of vision; the TV screen, the view from the window of a car or train or plane became ubiquitous. Painters from Roy Lichtenstein to Sylvia Mangold created work that reflected this new frame and the culture in which it existed. Other artists including Lewis Baltz, Mary Lucier, Richard Misrach and Edward Ruscha turned their gaze to environmental change and to the politics of a landscape radically and irrevocably transformed in the name of progress. Today the landscape provides fodder for artists envisioning the future as well as those who see through the lens of post-industrial culture. From the recasting of landscape logos by Cameron Martin to the paintings of Kevin Appel, which suggest a virtual interior/exterior landscape, artists continue to explore the landscape in dynamic ways.

"Shifting Ground: Transformed Views of the American Landscape" is the second of two exhibitions supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. The three-year grant awarded to the Henry Art Gallery encourages exploration of the American portions of the permanent collection, further accessibility to this collection and additional scholarship on American art. Funding for this exhibition has been provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, Inc; the Museum Loan Network, a national collection-sharing program funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, and administered by MIT's Office of the Arts; PONCHO; The Boeing Company; WRO, Inc.; Henry Art Gallery Special Exhibitions Initiative donors and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Barwick. An 80-page catalogue accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue includes 24 color images, an essay by Associate Curator Rhonda Lane Howard and six, two-page essays from Julie R. Johnson, Laura Landau, Marta Lyall, Raymond William Rast, Leroy Searle and Phillip Thurtle. The catalogue is available at the Henry Art Gallery shop. (left: William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Over the Hills and Far Away, c. 1897, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32 3/4 inches, Henry Art Gallery, Horace C. Henry Collection, 26.23; right: George Inness, Goochland, West Virginia, 1884, oil on wood panel, 20 1/16 x 30 1/8 inches, Henry Art Gallery, Horace C. Henry Collection)

Read more about the Henry Art Gallery in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

rev. 12/27/10

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.