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Creating the Myths of Alaska: Art from the Permanent Collection

 

Creating the Myths of Alaska: Art from the Permanent Collection is an exhibit currently on view at The Anchorage Museum of History and Art. According to the Museum's newsletter, "Creating the Myths tackles the sizeable task of describing Alaska by exploring the different ways people have made art in the last Frontier over the past several decades." The exhibit will be on display through September 26, 2004.

In the fall of 1999, the Anchorage Museum of History and Art initiated an exhibition series, now titled Points of View, as a way of presenting its permanent collection of art of the North from new perspectives. For the exhibitions in this series, the Museum staff invites a guest curator to survey the Museum's art collection and select an exhibition that will present works in the collection from a different "point of view," bringing fresh eyes to the work and creating new and interesting juxtapositions that offer Museum visitors new insights into the art of Alaska and the far North. . Previous Points of View curators have included artists Wanda Seamster, Richard Benson, David Mollett, and Ronald Senungetuk.

The Guest Curator for the 2004 Points of View is Anchorage painter Duke Russell, who has lived in Alaska since he was 12 years old. Russell is a self-taught artist whose well-known urban scene paintings have been included in several juried shows at the Museum, as well as at solo shows at Decker/Morris Gallery and Subzero. Russell also teaches drawing to children at the Museum and was voted "Anchorage's Best Artist" by the Anchorage Press last year.

Following is the text from a gallery handout sheet written by Mr. Russell titled Curator's Statement. Below the Statement is selected text from the wall panels in the exhibit galleries.

 

Curator's Statement

My imagination went wild when I was asked to do the Points of View show. My first thought was investigation! Discovering cavernous repositories of old masters. Getting lost in a sea of historic treasure. Reading ancient correspondence and translating Sanskrit. Our museum, however, is less than fifty years old. My imagination took a little turn. There is no cavern of old masters. There is a very tidy basement though, with low lighting and rows of metal walls that roll out like huge vertical files. Home for the paintings. Many famous and familiar ones. Pull out a wall and see: Thomas Hart Benton, Red Grooms, Miro. Others seem to be sidelined for a variety of reasons, including simply falling out of fashion. I hoped to bring out some of the latter to participate in this talent show, to share in a broader view of experiences. It's all interesting with the right set of eyes.
 
The permanent collection of paintings from the Museum plays a role in how we keep our internal mind's eye of Alaska; it colors our stories of Alaska when we travel abroad. Describing the Alaskan experience is a sizeable task-not only a geographic expanse, but one of rapid growth and change. Writing or painting about Alaska seems to extend far beyond the margins of page or panel. With this task of looking beyond the margins, I was lifted by the wide spectrum of art in the collection. I have included some of the paintings that may appear a little offbeat. For instance, a Cubist-influenced painting doesn't have the edge it might have had sixty years ago, but it remains interesting and worth another look, as with many of the art trends through time. I looked for honesty and well as fiction. I looked at the different ways the people were making art in the new frontier.
 
From the Archives at the Museum, I have included a number of photographs from the rich collection of Ward Wells, along with random articles from periodicals of younger times that give us glimpses into days past and surprise us as we discover the level of sophistication the city of Anchorage had in the early years. The photos contrast with the art of the same time period. I wanted to show all the other things that were happening.
 
No matter the challenge it presented artists, Alaska has attracted its fair share. In this grouping of mostly Alaska paintings and artifacts, there lies a broad array of images and styles through a relatively long span of time. I looked through hundreds of paintings, gleaning each one for clues about other stories of Alaska. Sometimes the work appeared to be pandering and perpetuating the myths of Alaska-illustrations perhaps for works of fiction. The sunsets, the trapper with much fringe, or the rosy-cheeked mother and child-much of this art is focused on motifs. Did market pressures limit the reflections of the times?
 
What's fact? What's fiction? Why so many paintings of caches? Are they really that cute? Popular images populate Alaska art, which tends to make me a little crazy. Why so many repeated motifs, why so many things not being said or painted? So I think of the small enterprise, the offshoot, the loose cannon and the innocent narrative that speak out to me. These are more honest and interesting. Interesting people came to Alaska, and some were compelled to do art. That's what I want this show to be about.
 
The exhibition is organized by topic. Some topics have a sense of time period; others are more eclectic. As you go through the exhibition, I hope that you discover that many are involved with making our memory of things in this life. Works of art are like little dots we connect to make our big window into the world.
 
Duke Russell,
Guest Curator

Selected wall panel text from the exhibit galleries:

The permanent collection of paintings from the Museum plays a role in what we keep in our internal mind's eye of Alaska; it colors our stories of Alaska when we travel abroad. The task of describing the Alaskan experience is a sizeable one, not only in a geographic context, but also one of rapid growth and change. Writing or painting about Alaska seems to extend far beyond the margins of page or panel. With this challenge of looking beyond the margins, I was lifted by the wide spectrum of art in the collection. I am including some of the paintings that may appear a little offbeat; those that reflect honesty as well as fiction, finding different ways people were making art in the new frontier.
 
From the Archives at the Museum, I am including a number of photographs from the rich collection of Ward Wells, along with random articles from periodicals of younger times that give us glimpses into days past. It may surprise us to discover the level of sophistication the city of Anchorage had in the early years. The photos contrast to the art of the same time period; I want to show all the other interesting lifestyles that existed.

Images pending

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