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Yosemite: Art of an American Icon

October 13, 2007 - January 13, 2008

 

From granite cliffs and soaring waterfalls to verdant meadows and tourist dreams, Yosemite National Park has long been a site of visual drama. Explore the many layered histories and experiences that converge in Yosemite: Art of an American Icon, on view beginning this fall at the Nevada Museum of Art (NMA). The power of art-to shape the way we see, use and protect Western lands-is the focus of this exhibition. From romantic depictions of wilderness to images of the complex and often congested experience of the park today, this exhibition explores Yosemite's changing visual identity and cultural role as a national destination. Yosemite spans three centuries and includes works by Albert Bierstadt, Ansel Adams, Eadweard Muybridge, Chiura Obata and Anne Brigman. Yosemite: Art of an American Icon, featuring over 140 paintings, photographs and Native American baskets, will be presented in the Feature Gallery from October 13, 2007 to January 13, 2008.

Arranged in four chronological sections, the exhibition examines the ways in which artists have shaped the park's visual identity over time and Yosemite's ongoing relevance as a distinct, contemporary Western landscape now visited by more than three million people annually.

Yosemite: Art of an American Icon was organized by the Museum of the American West, Autry National Center, Los Angeles, California.

 

1855-1890: Nature's Cathedral

Propelled by a spirit of discovery, America's nineteenth-century search for cultural significance coalesced around Westward expansion. Urged by writers, critics and intellectuals to become directly involved with nature, artists such as Albert Bierstadt, William Keith, Thomas Hill and photographers Carleton Watkins and Eadweard Muybridge sought out the spectacular in Yosemite by portraying it as the epitome of pristine wilderness and evidence of America's destiny. A selection of early baskets, mammoth-plate photographs and grand landscape paintings connect the presence of native people in Yosemite to its early artistic identity as an exotic and distinctly Western destination.

 

1890-1916: The People's Playground

The results of the 1890 census led to the close of the American frontier, and that same year Yosemite achieved national park status, making its official transition from remote locale to national pastime. The art from the early tourist years of Yosemite explores the impact of tourism, from changing ideas regarding conservation to the introduction of Indian Field Days and the transformation of basket-making. The failed efforts of William Keith and John Muir to save the Hetch-Hetchy Valley from becoming a reservoir signaled the end of Yosemite as a scenic preserve and its future as an economically beneficent tourist mecca.

 

1917-1969: An Icon Comes of Age

America's newfound love of the automobile doubled Yosemite's visitation between 1915 and 1919. The mood of its patrons shifted from one of exclusivity to development that met the needs of the parks increased visitorship. Impressionists such as Maurice Braun and Colin Campbell Cooper to pictorialists Alvin Langdon Coburn, William Dassonville and Anne Brigman shaped a fresh identity for the park as an accessible place where stylish aesthetics coexisted with a human presence. Indian Field Days became a major event and transformed the baskets of Carrie Bethel into a recognized form of art. During this time Ansel Adams created the iconic photos that would eventually dominate the public imagination. Towards mid-century, the relationship between the park and its artists became a more intimate one, and Modernists begin to explore its abstract potential.

 

1970- present: Revisiting Yosemite

Since the seventies, Yosemite has faced overcrowding, uncertainty and unrest. Yosemite artists, focused on a landscape long removed from its frontier roots, deal with a place of contradictions where urban development often coexists with gorgeous scenery. Photographers Roger Minick, Ted Orland, John Divola, Richard Misrach and others look past the romantic legacy of Adams to new vistas and contrasts. Wayne Thiebaud and David Hockney are among the major American artists who perceive Yosemite as an extension of the modern experience. In the 1980s painting returns with vigor. The presence of diverse artistic approaches from Greg Kondos, Wolf Kahn, Jane Culp and Tony Foster end the exhibition with an optimistic look into the future of the park through the eyes of its artists past and present.

 

Catalogue

Edited by Amy Scott, Museum of the American West, Autry National Center curator of Yosemite: Art of an American Icon, the exhibition catalogue includes interpretive essays, 150 images and examinations of Yosemite's enduring legacy. Published by University of California Press, the book is 220 pages in length and is available at The Store located in the NMA.

 

 

(above: Greg Kondos, El Capitan, Yosemite, 1990, oil on canvas)

 

(above: Roger Minick, Woman with a Scarf at Inspiration Point, Yosemite Valley, 1980, dye coupler photograph)

 

(above: Rondal Partridge, Pave It and Paint It Green, ca. 1965, gelatin silver print. Museum of the American West Collection, Autry National Center, Los Angeles; purchase made possible by Jennifer and James R. Parks. © Rondal Partridge)



Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

and this book:

Yosemite: Art of an American Icon, By Amy Scott, Published 2006 by University of California Press, Landscape photography. 221 pages. ISBN:0520249224. Google Book Search says of this book:

This lavishly illustrated volume offers a stunning new view of Yosemite's visual history by presenting two hundred works of art together with provocative essays that explore the rich intersections between art and nature in this incomparable Sierra Nevada wilderness. Integrating the work of Native peoples, it provides the first inclusive view of the artists who helped create an icon of the American wilderness by featuring painting, photography, basketry, and other artworks from both well-known and little-studied artists from the nineteenth century to the present. Yosemite: Art of an American Icon pursues several evocative themes, including the relationship between environment and aesthetics in Yosemite; the various ways in which artists have shaped how we see and use the park; and the dynamic intersections between art, nature, and commerce that have played out during its history. In addition to offering a wide-ranging view of Yosemite's art over the past two centuries, the volume provides intriguing insights into the complexities and contradictions inherent in its enduring image as both an unspoiled natural wonder and a must-see spot for sightseers.With Essays by Amy Scott, William Deverell, Kate Nearpass Ogden, Gary F. Kurutz, Brian Bibby, Jennifer A. Watts, and Jonathan Spaulding Copub: Museum of the American West

(right: front cover, Yosemite: Art of an American Icon. Photo courtesy Google Book Search.) Google provides limited preview of this book.

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