Are New Yorkers the most parochial people on the planet? I sometimes think so, especially when it comes to art, where we have an absolute genius for overlooking the important in busy pursuit of The Important. We are a city of zeitgeist sniffers, way too hungry for whatever fad diet the art market is currently dishing out. Luckily our plat du jour gets a lot tastier whenever the Met or the Frick or another city museum brings forth a sensational exhibition with global reach and historical depth, as they frequently do. The glorious Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500-1800 currently at the Met comes to mind.
We have assembled an issue that has little or nothing to do with what is going on in New York…or even with the East Coast for that matter. This may not be a felony but it might qualify as some kind of journalistic misdemeanor in many eyes. You be the judge. I can say with confidence that here on our island we have somehow missed the passion for American art of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries at large in the rest of the land. There is, for instance, Go West!, currently at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and drawn from the rich holdings of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. It is a big show of great art about the frontier, the place where American optimism and American values came to grief. It is not a cozy exhibition as you will see, and you should see it.
The South may be the most overwritten region of the country, but its art was largely ignored until Roger Ogden began filling his New Orleans house with it and then opened the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. New Yorkers down there on a visit would do well to stop by the Ogden for sheer pleasure and for an inexpensive, therapeutic session in attitude adjustment. Out in California Alfred Harrison stands up for the Golden State’s genre painting despite its having been ignored by the Met in its 2009 exhibition American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life 1765-1915. And we discover that Californians like Karin and Jonathan Fielding can be more nimble than many Easterners in collecting folk painting and early American furniture.
Milwaukee has a theatrical Thomas Sully show and in Chicago there is the wonderful Art and Appetite at the Art Institute-surprises both. Finally there is the most unanticipated event of all: the arrival of the Minnesota Marine Art Museum on the banks of the Mississippi in Winona, Minnesota, and the installation of a world-class collection of paintings loosely inspired by water. I do not say “world-class” lightly. In fact, I would not say it at all if it had not been used here by James Gardner, who writes each month on art and accepts no one else’s clichés (especially not mine). James embeds the MMAM collection in a crisp lesson in art history; keeping his head above water, he approaches the collection on its own merits. Of course, he makes discoveries and original observations of this quality every month. And, should I mention, drawing attention to the flawed premise with which I began, that James is a quintessential New Yorker?