San Jose Museum of Art

San Jose, CA



Surroundings: Responses to the American Landscape


Surroundings: Responses to the American Landscape, the last in a series of four exhibitions resulting from SJMA's landmark collection-sharing collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art, will open to the public on Sunday, June 6, 1999 and runs through June 11, 2000. Begun in 1994, the series of large-scale exhibitions, shown only in San Jose for a period of one year each, was designed to give an overview of twentieth-century American art from a variety of new perspectives using masterworks and lesser-known pieces from the Whitney's superb Permanent Collection.

SJMA Director Josi Callan commented, "This extraordinary collaboration has been very successful for our Museum. People in the South Bay, as well as visitors to San Jose from around the world, have been exposed to an unprecedented showing of masterworks from the Whitney's collection - outside of New York -- over an extended period of time. As predicted, these exhibitions have provided the necessary context to demonstrate to our community and donors the importance of preserving and exhibiting the art of our time. Surroundings is an ideal conclusion to this mutually-beneficial eight-year partnership."

Co-curated by Beth Venn, Curator of Touring Exhibitions and Director of Branch Museums at the Whitney, and SJMA Curator Cathy Kimball, this final exhibition will look at the ways in which artists have responded to the changing American landscape over the past century. No other genre in the history of art has been so altered, reinterpreted, and transformed. Over the last one hundred years, when rural landscapes have been largely replaced by urban, overcrowded ones, artists have thoughtfully chronicled this transition, as well as our shift in values and concerns about the natural world that surrounds us.

"It is fitting to end this fruitful cross-country collaboration with an exhibition that examines this quintessentially American subject, that has long united artists across the country in a shared experience," stated Beth Venn, who has served as the Whitney's curator for all four of the San Jose exhibitions.

The curatorial objective of Surroundings is to chart the ways in which modern American artists, utilizing new art vocabularies, have broadened the definition of landscape imagery. Beginning in the early twentieth century, many artists found the realist tradition of landscape painting inadequate to express the rapid transformation that was impacting their natural environment. Some artists abandoned the search for the sublime in landscape and focused their attention on the present-day conditions of their natural world. Other artists turned away from realistic portrayals of the land toward more abstract, personal interpretations. Over time, artists' characteristic style and underlying aesthetic became primary -- the actual "location" became secondary. In recent years, as environmental issues have gained greater urgency, many artists have reacted to the political, social and spiritual changes resulting from society's destructive imprint on the land.

Surroundings, which includes a wide range of painting, sculpture, mixed-media works, photography, and works on paper, is organized into five contiguous, thematic sections based on stylistic approaches:

I. The exhibition begins with traditional realist depictions of the landscape by such artists as Charles Burchfield, Arthur B. Davies, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Andrew Wyeth;
II. Works where artists have abstracted the landscape using loose brushwork, gestural lines and vibrant color to portray intense, emotional responses to the land are found in this section. Paintings by Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Joan Mitchell, Louise Nevelson, and Georgia O'Keeffe are included;
III. The third stylistic grouping explores the ways artists have abstracted from organic structures and forms found directly in nature, including artists as diverse as William Baziotes, Thomas Hart Benton, Petah Coyne, Arthur G. Dove; Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Joseph Stella, Florine Stettheimer, George Sugarman, and Fred Tomaselli;
IV. Artists shown in the next section have eliminated extraneous detail and reduced nature to its most fundamental elements -- drawing attention to its more ephemeral qualities. Painting, sculpture, and photography by major artists such as Milton Avery, Alex Katz, Richard Misrach, Keith Sonnier, and Christopher Wilmarth are featured;
V. The last section features artists confronting socio-political and environmental issues resulting from the destructive impact of civilization on the land. Works by artists Michael Ashkin, Ashley Bickerton, Roger Brown, Christo, Michael Heizer, Neil Jenney, Ana Mendieta, Robert Morris, and James Turrell, are included.

Education components accompanying Surroundings include a children's multimedia interactive area -- Take a Hike! -- and a second edition of the popular gallery game -- Do the Whitney Walk -- both of which were developed by the SJMA Curator of Education, Interpretation, Margie Maynard, with a team of computer specialists and college interns.

The objective of Take a Hike! is to immerse young viewers and their parents in three different virtual "hikes, each exploring three artworks. The progressively challenging "hikes' teach about the artists' creative process as well as basic elements of composition. Do the Whitney Walk is an award-winning game designed for families to use on their own in the exhibition galleries. As the players "do the walk," they encounter selected works from the exhibition and learn how to interpret artworks through observation. Both activities are free of charge to Museum visitors.

Two publications and three posters also accompany Surroundings. A tabloid-size brochure, with two essays and numerous four-color images, will be available free of charge as visitors enter the galleries. A separate interpretative exhibition guide will also be given out free to Museum visitors. Posters of images by Rockwell Kent and Marsden Hartley, as well as an exhibition logo poster, will be available in The Museum Store. Altera and the San lose Mercury News are lead corporate sponsors of Surroundings. Major sponsorship is provided by American Airlines; John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal agency; Ann Nowers Noyce; Oppenheimer Wolff & Donnelly LLP; Pentagram Design; Terra Law LLP; and The Redevelopment Agency, City of San Jose.

Additional sponsors are: Deloitte & Touche; Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space; MacDonald Printing; OFFITBANK; Potlatch Corporation; Quantum Corporation and San Jose Magazine.

Images from top to bottom (click on thumbnail images to enlarge them):Edward Hopper, Railroad Sunset, 1929, oi on canvas, 28 1/4 x 47 3/4 inches; Georgia O'Keeffe, The Mountain, NM, 1931, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches; Thomas Hart Benton, Martha's Vineyard, 1925, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches; Rockwell Kent, Moonlight Winter, c. 1940, oil on canvas, 28 x 34 1/4 inches; Milton Avery, Tree Fantasy, 1950, oil on canvas, 30 1/4 x 40 1/4 inches; Christo, Running Fence, Project for Sonoma County and Marin County, State of California, 1976, collage, 22 x 28 inches; Roger Brown, XXX Exxon, 1989, oil on canvas, taxidermized animals, stones, liquid asphalt, 49 1/2 x 13 inches.

Read more about San Jose Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.

Text and images courtesy of San Jose Museum of Art

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

rev. 10/18/10

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