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Changing Visions of the North American Landscape

October 24, 2000 - January 28, 2001


This exhibition, curated by Marjorie E. Wieseman, looks at approximately 60 paintings, photographs, and works on paper by American artists from the late I7th century to the present day, and their varied and complex interpretations of our physical environment. Artists include Ansel Adams, John James Audubon, Albert Bierstadt, Christo, Eva Hesse, Agnes Martin, Thomas Moran, Robert Smithson, Paul Strand, Grant Wood, and many others.

The ongoing process of discovering and documenting the North American continent is outlined in Awesome Spectacles and Majestic Idylls: Coming to terms with the American wilderness. In this segment of the exhibition, the reactions of artists, travelers, explorers, and emigrants to the vast wildernesses of the North American continent are presented. Observers of this new land were continually astounded by the pristine grandeur of the new frontier and its awe-inspiring topography, and by their encounters with indigenous peoples, and exotic flora and fauna. A series of 19th- and 20th-century images of westward expansion documents the Anglo-European predilection for shaping the wilderness to conform to abstract ideals of government and ownership, and a growing consciousness of the impact of this stance. (left: Thomas Moran (American, 1837-1926), The Grand Canyon, 1909, oil on canvas, 20 1/4 x 16 inches, Gift of Mrs. John A. Hadden in memory of Mrs. Francis F. Prentiss, 1981.41)

A Bountiful Harvest: Working and Playing on the Land follows the process of settling and molding the North American landscape for productive and recreational purposes. During the 19th century, vast tracts of wilderness were irrevocably transformed to support extensive agriculture and other industries that contributed to a much-glorified national prosperity. While there were some less than positive aspects to working the land -- the isolation of remote settlements, the endless toil of wresting an existence from the land, and the destruction of natural environments -- the majority of images celebrate the productive colonization of the continent. As more and more areas became open to settlement during the course of the 19th century, portions of the landscape were designated for organized pleasure and leisure use in the form of parks. As these images show, there was an explosive rise in escorted excursions and tourist jaunts to carefully maintained pockets of natural beauty.

The Urban Landscape considers the constructed landscape: the city as a modern locus of impressive vistas and reflections on the sublime. Beauty is found not in awesome natural spectacles, but in an entirely man-made environment dominated by the geometric precision of crystalline structures and the tremendous power of machines. At the same time, there is still a longing for the natural environment, and artists are drawn to record bits of nature secreted within congested urban environments, such as tiny parks and individual yards, and the self-reflexive appreciation of landscape art.

The fourth section of the exhibition, Landscapes of the Mind, presents more subjective interpretations of the North American landscape. Nineteenth-century allegories, for example, invoked natural features to represent concepts such as the Ages of Man, or to allude to specific political situations. Artists of the 20th century created a diverse range of individual styles and visual vocabularies to convey personal responses to landscape and environment. From the late 1960s, artists have also produced performance art, sculpture and earthworks that interact with and actively transform the landscape itself.

Several objects in the exhibition have been generously loaned by other Ohio institutions including The Cleveland Museum of Art , Columbus Museum of Art , Metropolitan Bank and Trust, and The Toledo Museum of Art. Changing Visions of the North American Landscape is part of a larger initiative to integrate the museum's collection into the general curriculum of Oberlin College, supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Media sponsorship is generously provided by WCPN-FM, Cleveland. The exhibition opens October 24, 2000 and runs through January 28, 2001.

A companion exhibition, opening September 26 and running through December 17, 2000, featuring 55 prints and drawings, Elements of the North American Landscape represents four major categories: towns and cities, rural scenes, wilderness, and seascapes. Oberlin College students, as their final project for the spring 2000 Museum Course, organized the exhibition. It includes works by many well-known artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, Joseph Pennell, Rockwell Kent, Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Morris.

rev. 3/21/06

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

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/4/11

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