Whitney Museum of American Art

New York, NY

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The Whitney Museum will present "Unknown Terrain," the first comprehensive New York exhibition of Andrew Wyeth's work in more than 20 years and the first ever to focus solely on his landscapes.

This landmark exhibition, which will run from May 28 to August 30, 1998, explores the landscapes that Wyeth, 80, has produced throughout his 60-year career. Additionally, it addresses the various styles, themes and techniques he employed in creating these works - all of which have been inspired by his life-long environs of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and Cushing, Maine. "Unknown Terrain" comprises approximately 120 works from museum and private collections as well as from Wyeth's personal archives and is curated by Adam D. Weinberg and Beth Venn, curator and associate curator, respectively, of the Whitney Museum's Permanent Collection.

From left to right: Edge of the Field, 1955, watercolor, Colby College, Waterville, ME; Hoffman's Slough Study, 1947, dry brush, collection of Andrew and Betsy Weyth; Shoreline, 1938, watercoler, collection of Andrew and Betsy Weyth; Buttonwood Leaf, 1981, dry brush, collection of Andrew and Betsy Weyth; Untitled (m485), 1958, collection of Andrew and Betsy Weyth.

The Whitney Museum has long supported Wyeth, having first presented his work in 1938. In 1967, the Museum presented an extensive Wyeth retrospective. Two major Wyeth works, the tempera Winter Fields (1942) - which is in "Unknown Terrain" - and the watercolor Spool Bed (1947), are in the Museum's Permanent Collection.

"Landscape as a subject has been the underpinning of Wyeth's works for more than 60 years," says Weinberg. "By focusing on landscapes one begins to see him as more than a painter of rustic narratives crafted in exacting technique. His stylistic and psychological range is surprising - especially as revealed by his watercolors, which are far richer and more extensive than most people realize," Weinberg adds. "In looking at the totality of Wyeth's work, one has to reconsider him as more than simply a homegrown American realist."

From left to right: Tree House, 1982, watercolor, private collection; Dil Huey Farm, 1941, tempera, 22 x 40 inches, private collection; Untitled (m0079), 1961, collection of Andrew and Betsy Weyth; Down Hill, 1971, watercoler, collection of Andrew and Betsy Weyth; Cider Apples, 1962, watercoler, 18 7/8 x 24 inches, collection of Andrew and Betsy Weyth.

The exhibition follows a primarily chronological format that begins with watercolors Wyeth painted in the late 1930s from his summer surroundings in Cushing. Watercolors, which Wyeth did almost exclusively in the early years of his professional career, represent an important part of his total body of work and will be a particular highlight of the exhibition. While he is best known for his tempera paintings and also strongly recognized for his drybrush work, he has produced thousands of watercolors - many of them unpublished and never exhibited - over the years. Many of these will be shown to the public for the first time in "Unknown Terrain."

His initial watercolors may come as a surprise to those who consider Wyeth strictly a meticulous, detail-driven artist. These works are loosely constructed and, in many cases, semi-abstract in character. Included in "Unknown Terrain" are a number of seascapes such as Coming Storm (1938), a depiction of a forbidding sea and sky in heavy slashes of blues and blacks; Rock Ledges (1939), a soft portrayal of algae-strewn rocks incorporating browns, purples and the white of the paper itself; and Shoreline (1938), a vigorously painted compostion of earth tones and black, highlighted with accents of bright color and positioned between a white breadth of sand and a vast blue-black ocean.

Though Wyeth soon moved into the highly precise style for which he is so well known - a style that the exhibition first hints at with the tempera Road Cut (1940), - he has continued to produce an astounding variety of watercolors, ranging from the photographic to the expressionistic, at various stages throughout his life.

Wyeth's interest in perspective and renowned eye for detail can be seen developing in his early tempera landscapes. In· Dil Huey Farm (1941) and Pennsylvania Landscape (1942), prominent trees in the foreground serve as the focal points; the land, as well as houses and barns, lie far behind. His burgeoning gift for replicating the textures of nature - the peeling, washed-out gray of tree bark, the brittle colorlessness of dead grass - is also apparent in these works.

As Wyeth evolved, so did his ways of "seeing" landscapes. The temperas Wind from the Sea (1947) and Seed Corn (1948) place the viewer indoors, looking out onto the land through a window. He uses this approach again, much later and in a slightly different manner, in the drybrush Easter Sunday (1975), where the outdoors is seen from a porch. This porch, like the earlier windows, provides an interior frame that crops the terrain down and isolates a specific viewpoint.

The tempera Soaring (1950) takes a completely different tack by placing the point of view from just over the shoulder of a gliding hawk as it surveys the land below. Here, a house is dwarfed by the magnitude of open fields that flow into hills, which in turn flow into the horizon and then the sky. Wyeth's fascination with perceiving landscapes in relation to the manmade structures standing in them can also be found in the tempera End of Olsons
(1969), the drybrush and watercolor Evening at Kuerners (1970) and the watercolor Country Wedding (1970).

The predominance of watercolors in "Unknown Terrain" -- they constitute more than half of the works in the exhibition -- serves to explore the full scope of Wyeth's abilities in this medium.

lt is Wyeth's work in watercolor that most clearly demonstrates the astonishing depth and range of his technical and expressive capacity," Venn notes. "The skillful balance of spontaneity and control seen in these works provides a new perspective from which to understand Wyeth's art."

Wyeth's versatility in watercolor painting ranges from delicate calligraphic works and highly finished, transcriptive images to brushy, flowing washes of pigment and thick, dark, almost violent applications of paint which seem to be in opposition to the watercolor medium itself.

Works such as Grimes Golden (1956), Sycamore (1982) and Hoar Frost (1995) are all examples of Wyeth's exhaustive detailing ability, which he uses to bring out remarkable textural nuance not generally associated with watercolors. On the other hand, dark and heavily shadowed works like Spruce Bough (1969) and Eastman's Brook (1971) tend toward the abstract but include passages of finely executed detailing, while such paintings as Kelp (1940), Cider Apples (1962) and a great many of his untitled works represent Wyeth's abstract style at its least restrained.

His mastery of texture is also highly evident in such tempera works as Lime Banks (1962), which reveals the yielding, crumbling feel of limestone; and Far From Needham (1966), which expresses the hard flintiness of a massive boulder.

This tactile dimension of Wyeth's painting also turns up in many of his dry brush works, including Grasses (1941), Kuerner's Hill (1946) and Winter Corn (1948). He developed this unique style of painting, in which he uses India ink and a brush brought to a fine point, and has employed it in doing studies for larger tempera works as well as in creating autonomous works.

Accompanying the exhibition will be a fully illustrated catalogue, published by the Whitney Museum and distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. It will include essays by the exhibition's curators on Wyeth's landscape painting and use of watercolor, as well as an essay by Michael Kammen, Newton C. Farr Professor of American History at Cornell University and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, on Wyeth's controversial status as an American cultural hero. This catalogue will be the first in-depth historical examination of Wyeth's work since Wanda Corn's The Art of Andrew Wyeth in 1973 to put Wyeth's career into critical and historical perspective.

This exhibition is supported by Robert W. Wilson, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and the Exhibition Associates of the Whitney Museum.

Read more about the Whitney Museum of American Art in Resource Library Magazine

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

rev. 11/26/10

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