Saturday, September 03, 2011

Adventures at the Wichita Art Museum #7: New exhibits, new things

Prairie Fires of the Great West, published by Currier and Ives. Unknown date. This lithograph is part of the "Pathways to Pavement" exhibition at the WAM. Click on image to enlarge. Found here.

This image should be on the covers of anthologies of American literature. It's beautifully composed, for one thing--look at all those diagonals causing the eye to move back and forth across the image. More significantly, though, it also has a title that renders ambiguous what should be a straightforward image: it is as though sparks from the locomotive's stack are the source of the fire; note the buffalo running in fear from the fire toward the railroad tracks, the building of which, as much as anything, sped along the buffaloes' demise. It is a goodly chunk of a post-Civil War history lesson in miniature. No introductory lecture needed, the prof could say. Just take a close gander at your book cover.

It's been a few months since I last visited the Wichita Art Museum and even longer since I've posted something. The other day, though, the local NPR station announced that, as part of its year-long 75th anniversary celebration, the WAM had up an exhibition called "Been in the Dark," a selection of works that had not been shown in many years, and some that had never been exhibited before. I was intrigued, and so I went over today to have a look.

It was a short but worthwhile trip. The main galleries are closed due to roof repairs, which means that the usual Greatest Hits of the permanent collection aren't on display. So, the museum has tried to make amends via this exhibition, "Pathways to Pavement," which also has a fair number of works that aren't often displayed, and a small exhibit of abstract works. Apparently, according to a docent I talked to today, some people have been a bit fussy when they arrive and learn that they won't get their Hopper or Cassatt fix. He makes the pitch, though, that these pieces are brand new to most people, that some of them are quite good, and that because of the WAM's mission of exhibiting American art, the pieces by foreign artists that are on display will just get packed up and put back into storage again. Also, there are some pieces on display by local and regional folks, and those are good to have out.

He's right, of course. I know I have mentioned in the past that those galleries given over to showing the permanent collection tend to get a bit stale after a while; so while, in addition to the pieces by foreign-born artists, to my untrained eye I can see why some of these pieces don't often come out--they're really a bit odd or, let's face it, just not great pieces--it is nevertheless refreshing to go and see lots of brand-new art.

Granted, "Been in the Dark" is something of a grab bag of pieces, as the curator freely admits: its theme really is, "You haven't seen many of these works in a very long time, if ever." So, the show has no real shape to it. That said, though, I especially enjoyed seeing three collages from the mid-60s by Ivan Tabaković (two of them felt like precursors of Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus); Everett Franklin Spruce's painting Big Turtle; a piece called Cinco minutos by the Spanish artist Juan Genovés, and Calm, a fine work by Lyonel Feininger that I think merits being shown more--it's like Feininger-meets-J.M.W. Turner.

Anyway. There's no big wind-up here. "Been in the Dark" runs till October. "Paths to Pavement," according to the website, was to have ended in July, but it's obviously still up. September 25th is the last day for the Abstractionist show. If you're in town, go see them. Some of these pieces might not be shown again for a very long time. But you might want to go on a Saturday--it's free admission on that day.


scott davidson said...

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