City Views: American Art the Urban Image
September 2, 2010 – May 15, 2011
The United States has a quixotic system for defining urban centers and cities. The U.S. Census Bureau defines the former and offers two classifications, each requiring minimum populations of more than 10,000 people. Cities are determined by the states and can vary widely in size. Thus, America’s five largest cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia are joined by Woodland Mills, TN (population 296 in 2000).
Cities contain a variety of physical forms, ranging from landmark architecture to quiet and quaint neighborhoods. Newer structures abut older ones as shown in Alan Dunn’s watercolor of the then Pan Am Building framing the campanile of Grand Central Station. The Pan Am Building exemplifies how 20th century engineering advancements enabled the construction of ever taller buildings. This significantly increased the amount of usable square footage for residential and commercial purposes giving housing and work opportunities to greater numbers of people.
The growth of cities developed new relationships between individuals and their surroundings. 20th century artists had mixed reactions and composed pictures reflecting their personal response to the urban environment. Some focused on the aforementioned growth in building and described the expanding skyline. Others like Robert Cottingham who worked later in the century saw architecture as an opportunity for formal experimentation where parts of buildings were emphasized over the whole leading to very abstract compositions.
Still other artists concentrated on the human side of the equation. Reginald Marsh reveled in the sea of humanity that arrived at New York’s Coney Island during the summer. During its height of popularity in the 1930s, over 1,000,000 visitors went to the “Nickel Empire” every weekend weather permitting.
Emotions, from psychological tension to loneliness to ambivalence, offered another rich theme. How could one feel lonely or isolated in a city of millions? Edward Hopper plumbed the depths of that question in two masterful etchings, Night Shadows and Evening Wind.
The University’s permanent collection is especially rich in 20th century American art and has a focus on the time period following World War I. The theme of this exhibition allows some of the more interesting works to be installed in a context that invites comparative analysis and hopefully initiate a lively dialogue between the object, the visitor and other visitors.