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Lyric Visions and Nature's Fury: Regionalism from the Permanent Collection

November 8, 2007 - January 20, 2008 


The Muskegon Museum of Art will present Lyric Visions and Nature's Fury, an exhibition of Regionalist paintings and prints from the MMA collections, and organized by MMA staff, from November 8, 2007 through January 20, 2008. (right: Zoltan Sepeshy (American b. Hungary, 1898-1974), MENDING ROW, 1942, tempera on masonite. Muskegon Museum of Art. Gift of the J.L. Hudson Co., Detroit, on the occasion of their 75th Anniversary)

Tornado Over Kansas and Baptism in Kansas are arguably John Steuart Curry's two most famous paintings. Frequently reproduced, both have been used not only to define Curry's career, but the entire Regionalist art movement. 

Tornado Over Kansas was purchased by the Hackley Art Gallery, now named the Muskegon Museum of Art, in 1935 from Feragil Galleries through the efforts of Maynard Walker, an aggressive proponent and marketer of Regionalist art. At the time, the Curry and a painting by Thomas Hart Benton were both being considered for acquisition. The Benton was not purchased, nor were the additional Curry paintings that Walker offered at the close of the sale of Tornado Over Kansas. In retrospect the purchase of the Curry seems an obvious choice and the decline of the Benton and another Curry shortsighted. In 1935 however, the paintings were new, the careers of the artists promising but not celebrated, and the movement of Regionalism still in its early stages and derided by the Modernist critics in New York. Today, Tornado Over Kansas is a national treasure and one of the Muskegon Museum of Art's most prominent works. 

Tornado Over Kansas speaks to a distinct period of U.S. social and cultural history when the struggle to define an "American" style of art was at the forefront. Tornado has been celebrated from its first public display, receiving a second place award at the Century of Progress exhibition in 1930. The painting has appeared in over 150 publications since its debut, including school textbooks, art magazines, art history texts, and the Hollywood blockbuster Twister. Tornado first captured the eye of the general public in 1934, in the pages of Time magazine, where the painting was illustrated in an article about the new U.S. style painters. The article included biographies on Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh, John Steuart Curry, and Grant Wood. (right: John Steuart Curry (American, 1897-1946), Tornado Over Kansas, 1929, oil on canvas. Muskegon Museum of Art. Hackley Picture Fund purchase)

The significance of this painting and its importance to the Regionalist movement were the inspiration for this exhibition, which was organized by Muskegon Museum of Art staff. While John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood are the "big three," (referred to as the Regionalist "Triumvirate") the Museum has included other artists under the umbrella of Regionalism -- the term itself, as a descriptive of the movement, is under constant re-examination. Regionalism typically focuses on the American Midwest of Curry, Benton, and Wood.

This exhibition defines the movement more broadly, including other artists who drew their inspiration for both content and subject directly from their surroundings, both country and city. the Museum has included the works of Charles Burchfield, Adolf Dehn, Reginald Marsh and Isabel Bishop (often characterized as Social Realists), Peter Hurd, Dale Nichols, and Michigan artists Reynold Weidenaar, Zoltan Sepeshy, and Tunis Ponsen. This close identity with a specific geographic location leads artists to portray the people and local culture, and the beauty and sometimes violent world of nature in their region.

Beyond subject and inspiration, viewers will also find a unified visual presence in the works on display: a dramatic, theater-styled experience, with careful staging and an emphasis on curves and lyrical, dance-like movements. From the fiercely active arrangements of Curry and the rounded geometries of Wood to the sinewy figures of Benton and the twisting landscapes of Weidenaar and others, these artworks evoke heightened drama inspired by a love of place.


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