American artists roam from the frontier’s wide-open spaces to the modern city’s teeming streets in six recent books. Wendy Smith explores their territories.
Norman Rockwell: 332 Magazine Covers
by Christopher Finch
The exultant schoolgirl sporting a shiner, the embarrassed dad explaining the facts of life, the fresh-faced prom couple seated at a soda fountain – Norman Rockwell’s images of American life are so iconic they seem to have sprung from the collective unconscious. That was one of the reasons Saying Grace sold at Sotheby’s last year for $46 million, the highest price ever paid at auction for Rockwell’s work; another, just as crucial, was the skilled craftsmanship evident on every appealing page of this oversized volume.
American Modern: Hopper to O’Keeffe
by Esther Adler and Kathy Curry
Rebutting the traditional view that MoMA had little interest in American art before Abstract Expressionism, a recent exhibit showcased the museum’s impressive American holdings from the first half of the 20th century, including such modernist classics as Gerald Murphy’s Wasp and Pear. The catalogue – especially strong in folk art-influenced work, photography and industrial landscapes – suggests that MoMA hewed to a specific narrative for American art, giving personality to the collection, which is an intriguing expression of the museum’s institutional style.
Museum of Modern Art/D.A.P., $45
edited by Avis Berman
William Glackens is so important as a champion of modern art – he helped select paintings for the 1913 Armory Show and advised pioneering collector Albert C. Barnes – that his own work sometimes get short shrift. This imbalance is redressed in a current travelling exhibition highlighting his masterly draftsmanship, his zest for urban vitality and the powerful impact of French painting, which led him to brighten his palette and broaden his subject matter. The excellent companion volume features astute essays on all phases of Glackens's career.
Skira Rizzoli, $55
Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In
by Nancy K. Anderson and Charles Brock
Wind from the Sea (1947), a haunting, non-narrative work radically different from the figurative, storytelling paintings for which Andrew Wyeth is best known stands at the centre of a fascinating exhibit currently at the National Gallery. Handsomely reproduced in the catalogue, a focused selection of work spotlights Wyeth’s career-long preoccupation with windows and reveals a formal concern for light, line and texture that places him within the broader, more eclectic notion of modernism embraced by contemporary art historians.
National Gallery of Art, Washington/D.A.P., $55
Art of the American Frontier: From the Buffalo Bill Center of the West
by Stephanie Mayer Heydt
A companion volume to an exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum spans a broad range of genres to reveal multiple perspectives on the American West, “as diverse and changeable as the frontier itself,” says High curator Stephanie Mayer Heydt in one of the several essays. A depiction of unspoiled wilderness by Albert Bierstadt is balanced by James Earl Fraser’s mournful End of the Trail; magnificently decorated clothing affirms the artistic heritage of Native Americans, whose somber dignity is captured by Edward Curtis and others.
High Museum of Art/Yale University Press, $45
by Kimberly A. Jones
A thoughtful exhibition at the National Gallery of Art until 5 October explores the fruitful artistic interchange between American expatriate Mary Cassatt and French Impressionist Edgar Degas. Far from being a master-student relationship, it was a dialogue between equals with common interests: facing catalogue pages display paintings with such similar subjects as family groups and people watching performances, treated with the shared commitment to realistically capture modern life that led Degas to remark upon first seeing Cassatt’s work, “There is someone who feels as I do.”
National Gallery of Art, Washington/Prestel, $50