America: Painting a Nation

Review: Visual Arts

America: Painting a Nation,
Art Gallery of New South Wales till 9th February 2014.

No matter would you have heard, no matter what you have been thinking, no matter what else you had planned for the next month, go and see this exhibition. Maybe twice.

America: Painting a Nation is a very important and fascinating selection of ninety plus American paintings. This selection of American art presents a unique opportunity to see works that you will have very little chance of seeing otherwise.

I was fortunate to have been going to Sydney for other reasons, and made the time to take in this exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

I am not going to say it is a blockbuster, because I do not believe that galleries should be marketing any exhibition as a blockbuster. There are ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions on all the time as our major public galleries have permanent collections on show that are at least equivalent to any of these blockbusters. My advice to all public gallery directors and marketing bureaucrats, get over it. Stop using that term.

This exhibitions should be marketed as a celebration of American painting.

 I suggest you do not read anything else on this exhibition. Go and enjoy it. Then do your background reading. Then maybe return for another engagement with all or some of the paintings.

This is a great selection of paintings from a number of significant collections and provides an interesting insight into many of the movements adopted, adapted and further developed by the Americans.

You will see works in styles you will recognise. New painting styles quickly traveled around the world, to where cultural differences, different locations, different environments and different subjects then combined to deliver an artwork that became relevant to the place in which it was made.

This exhibition is full of such works. Some of the artists’ names you may have heard of, while many you may be introduced to you for the first time. That’s one fun part of this particular selection.

Some of the artists that you recognise, you may know through better known paintings. Here you get to see works lesser known to the Australian audience. That’s another part of the enjoyment of this exhibition, seeing paintings selected from several major American collections. For instance, that small Pollock is magic. I did not know about that early Rothko. Now I have seen it close up. Always nice to see any Hooper. Landscape paintings are always welcomed especially those dealing with the American’s changing concept of their landscapes.

A big thank you goes out to the gallery director,  Michael Brand, for the providing the opportunity to see these works given that my chances of seeing them in the USA would now be close to zero.

I managed to get to the exhibition on a Tuesday afternoon. It was reasonably quiet. That is, there were not too many people in there (good for me – maybe not so good for the gallery).

I took my time and walked through three times. On the way I noted that I was one of about six people doing the same repeat walk-through.

Please do not read any reviews till you have seen the show for yourself and have had a chance to enjoy paintings from this country as it went through its growing pains (maybe it still is)

The catalogue is a good honest read. The reproduction quality is OK. There are plates of all the works.

Last words: Go and see this exhibition.

Recommended: Rating 9/10



Below I have listed links to a couple of published reviews of the exhibition.

I read these after I saw the exhibition and remain puzzled as to whether we saw the same exhibition.

What did the Director, Michael Brand,  do or not do to upset these two reviewers? It seems they have their collective noses out of joint about something.

Did they want to be the curator or want to be asked to write a piece? Did they want a job at the gallery? Did their friend just get fired? Did they not read that Michael Brand said this was the beginning of a new relationship with the USA and that there was much more to come. Did they think that every exhibition must have their nominated limited number of iconic works? Did they think that to show any painting outside the ones they know is just not good enough?

Actually after reading the two reviews, I question just how much about American Art do these two reviewers know? It seems by their over-reactions, maybe not too much outside the usual and well-known.

Who knows really – and who really cares. On this occasion both these reviews are showing signs of being petulant and just a little too silly.

This exhibition should be celebrated and enjoyed for what it is, rather than for what they wished it to be.

Sydney Morning Herald. When is John McDonald going to get over his time with the NGA? Why bring up the NGA in the middle of this review? Possibly rather than being serious about the visual arts, he is simply yet another grandstanding and attention seeking ‘gotcha’ journalist like so many journalists who are employed just to be ‘difficult’ to sell more papers.

The Guardian. Andrew Frost sometimes writes good stuff. Sometimes. In this case he has tried hard to be the radical voice (which he isn’t). Just that he ends up being boring. And I think he missed the point of the exhibition and does not understand what Michael Brand is doing with forging more visual arts links and exchanges with the USA.

I am planning to post a review of the visual arts reviewers.

PS: If you park in the Domain, there are now steps close to the gallery near the blue area labelled 2 C. And remember to talk to the front desk because they will stamp your Domain packing ticket so that you get $6 off the first hour.

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