Dead Blogging ‘Regarding America’ at the Addison Gallery

Well the Missus and I trundled up to Andover yesterday to wander around Phillips Academy’s Addison Gallery of American Art and say, it was swell.

The major exhibit there right now is Regarding America: 19th-Century Art from the Permanent Collection (through July 31), which introduces itself with this poetic compare and contrast.

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

— “America,” Walt Whitman, 1888

America, it is to thee,
Thou boasted land of liberty,—
It is to thee I raise my song,
Thou land of blood, and crime, and wrong.

— “America” (excerpt), James Monroe Whitfield, 1853

Talk about parallel universes . . .

The Addison website notes that “Walt Whitman, a White man, and James Monroe Whitfield, a Black man, renowned poets born only two years apart in the northeastern United States, experienced 19th-century America quite differently . . . Comprising paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, and sculptures drawn from the Addison’s acclaimed collection of 19th-century American art, this exhibition offers critical insight into this transformative and contradictory century.”

Representative samples:

The exhibit struck me as a kind of DIY exercise, leaving it largely to the viewer to cobble together “critical insight into this transformative and contradictory century.” Regardless, there was a lot of interesting work to look at along the way.

Also great to look at: Arthur Wesley Dow: Nearest to the Divine (through July 31).

Art is the most valued thing in the world…it is the expression of the highest form of human energy, the creative power nearest to the divine. The power is within – the question is how to reach it. – Arthur Wesley Dow

Drawn almost entirely from the Addison’s collection, this exhibition explores the prodigious and multifaceted oeuvre of the Ipswich-born artist, educator, and theoretician, Arthur Wesley Dow. Featuring over 100 works including photographs, prints, drawings, paintings, and ephemera, this exhibition highlights not only the profound beauty of Dow’s groundbreaking artistic contributions across media but reveals his radically anti-academic, intuitive, and inherently democratic approach to artmaking. This approach, transmitted to generations of art students in his classroom, notably Georgia O’Keeffe, and through his influential publication Composition, encourages the artist to transcend faithful representation and channel their emotion and personal vision through a universal “trinity of power” inherent in harmonious design—line, notan (the balance of dark and light), and color.

Representative samples:

For a more professional analysis, you can check out Boston Globe art critic Murray Whyte’s review here.

Last but certainly not least – Past Is Prologue: History in Contemporary Art (through July 31).”The artists assembled in this exhibition mine the past, using American history and the history of art of the western world to explore issues of gender, identity, memory, race, and truth.”

Sarah G. Austin’s Braque, Picasso (1978) was by far my favorite piece in the exhibit (and is also, according to this Facebook post, now part of the Addison’s permanent collection).

It’s a knockout in person.

There’s plenty of time to catch all of the above at the Addison, and it’s well worth a trundle.

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