Thursday, 28 April 2011

The National Gallery - An American Experiment Exhibition - Part 2

Welcome back to Access London and the second part of my series on The National Gallery and its exhibition 'An American Experiment: George Bellows and The Ashcan Painters'.

If you missed the post yesterday, please feel free to scroll down and read it. It contains details of access requirements if you use a wheelchair or mobility scooter and also has an interesting interview with the Access Officer and Senior Information Manager at the gallery.

Today's post will focus more on the exhibition itself. Access London has been fortunate enough to interview the curator of the exhibition, here's what he had to say...

X7318, George Luks, Knitting for the soldiers: High Bridge Park, 1918, Copyright Photo Courtesy of the Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel. J, Terra Collection, Chicago, 1999.87

AL: Who are you and what is your role at The National Gallery?
CR: I am Christopher Riopelle, Curator of Post 1800 Paintings at The National Gallery. T: 020 7747 2804 E:

AL: What work and time is involved to bring an exhibition such as 'An American Experiment' to the UK?
CR: An American Experiment was put together in the relatively brief period of fourteen months from the time we propsed an exhibition on George Bellows and his colleagues to our collaborators on the project, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and I and my fellow curator, Katherine Bourguignon of the Terra Foundation, began to identify and solicit loans. From then, the usual tasks involved in mounting an exhibition with foreign loans kicked in; they simply had to be carried out by the various departments of the National Gallery on a speeded-up timetable.

x7315, William Glackens, Washington Square, 1910, Copyright New Britain Museum of American Art, Charles F. Smith Fund, 1944.03. Photo: Alex Morganti

AL: Why did the gallery choose this particular group of artists to dedicate an exhibition to?
CR: The purpose of our on-going collaboration with The Terra Foundation is to introduce aspects of the American painting tradition, little known here, to British and European audiences. There was broad agreement that Bellows is a remarkable artist, arguably the most innovative American painter of the early 20th Century, but that he is hardly known on this side of the Atlantic. This would be our opportunity to introduce him to a new audience, although it would always be a 'taste', rather than an exhaustive presentation. Because the exhibition was conceived as an introduction to Bellows, we also determined that we should show him in the context of his closest painterly colleagues, the so-called Ashcan Painters.

AL: Why were the 12 paintings in the exhibition specifically chosen to represent the painters and their style?
CR: We were particularly interested in showing Bellows as a landscape painter. This dictated our choice of paintings, especially the four views of Manhattan that hardly show Manhattan at all. We also wanted to show these artists as figurative painters and social commentators. As a major Bellows retrospective exhibition is coming to the Royal Academy in 2013, we did not want to duplicate works that will be shown there. With only one exception of a loan refused, because of the fragile condition of the painting, we were able to borrow all the works we asked for.

x7309 George Bellows, Blue Snow, The Battery, 1910, Copyright Columbus Museum of Art, Howald Fund Purchase 1958.035

AL: For those who have never heard of this group of artists before, how would you describe their style of art?
CR: These are realist painters dedicated to detailing the social scene in a rapidly changing and expanding America, and to forging a distinctive American school of painting. Their art of social realism is tinged with expressionism and with a new freedom in the handling of paint that had only recently been introduced into European avant-garde art.

AL: What influences and importance do you belive the Ashcan Painters had on 20th Century art?
CR: The importance of the Ashcan Painters for American art in the early 20th Century is universally acknowledged by American art historians. Because they have not been widely seen in a European context, we are still in the process of determining their wider importance of 20th Century art as a whole. Certainly Bellows' audacious handling of paint must place him among the innovators of painting technique in those decades.

x7314 George Bellows, The Big Dory, 1913, Copyright New Britain Museum of American Art, Harriet Russel Stanley Fund, 1944.21. Photo: Alex Morganti

AL: Can you sum up in 5 words or less what people can expect from this exhibition?
CR: Frankly, no. I find that too reductive. Visitors must find their own way, open their eyes to new artists they probably haven't known and, with the help of the exhibition catalogue, wall texts etc, make of it what they make of it.

Access London would like to offer a huge thank you to Chris Riopelle for taking the time to answer our questions and help us to open our eyes to artists we may not have heard of before. I would also like to thank Karen Bosomworth for allowing me to use images of some of the beautiful pieces that you can see at this exhibition.

An American Experiment is open to the public at the National Gallery until the end of May. It has free entry to all and is completely accessible to those with disabilities (please see previous post for more details on this).

Please feel free to leave a comment, follow the blog and help to spread the word on disability access and awareness in London.

COMING SOON: Pre-Theatre dinner, Tate Britain's Watercolour exhibition and The Royal Parks

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