Works by Warhol, de Kooning, Pollock, and More On View in Dazzling Stone Gallery Show
An Adventure in the Arts provides a crash course in 20th-century art history
This story originally published in BU Today on November 21, 2023, by Sophie Yarin.
Childe Hassam. Andy Warhol. Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock. These six are among the most influential 20th-century artists, and each is represented in an expansive traveling exhibition currently on view at the Faye G., Jo, and James Stone Gallery through December 9.
Titled An Adventure in the Arts, it includes a selection of works drawn from the permanent collection of Guild Hall, a prominent cultural center on Long Island. Founded in 1931 with the mission of advancing civic engagement through participation in the arts, the center was an artist colony and performance space that nurtured the likes of such painters as Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, and Willem de Kooning, playwrights Thornton Wilder, Edward Albee (Hon.’10), and Tennessee Williams, and choreographers Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse.
Guild Hall may be the convening principle behind the Stone Gallery show, but it’s by no means the exclusive focus. Works by more than 50 other artists, including Jasper Johns, Max Ernst, Robert Rauschenberg, and Chuck Close, are also on display, spanning from the turn of the 20th century to the AIDS era, with little to unite them aside from the fact that their creators made art at or near Guild Hall. (Today, the center’s permanent collection numbers nearly 2,000 paintings, photographs, prints and sculptures.)
The show’s title perfectly sums up the experience of looking at the 73 works on view—it’s an adventure—one that traces how contemporary American art evolved over the last century.
An Adventure in the Arts offers a brief, accessible look at the evolution of 20th-century American aesthetic movements. The exhibition’s pieces by Andy Warhol—watercolors Shoe (top row, second from right) and To Sam (top row, far right), and a screen print of Marilyn Monroe (not pictured)—trace the artist’s progression from illustration to pop art.
You can see it in the many Long Island landscapes on view. One corner of the gallery is devoted exclusively to landscapes, and if you follow piece by piece, you’ll see how the depictions lose their staid, representational trappings and bloom into the genteel Impressionism of Hassam and his contemporary Francis Newton—all sun-dappled cottages and verdant hills. Keep going and you’ll find Jane Freilicher’s softly brushed landscape featuring a clump of early spring grass under a watery sky. The Long Island landscapes cap off beautifully with representational painter Fairfield Porter’s The Plane Tree, a lush green meditation that teeters on the edge of his later abstract expressionism. The work feels like one of the most portentous in the exhibition, holding the line between representation and notion, unsure of whether it wants to be a tree or a memory of one.
Former Guild Hall museum director and chief curator Christina Mossaides Strassfield, who curated the exhibition, has chosen to lean heavily on abstract works, emphasizing abstract art’s importance as an emergent 20th-century genre. Pop art gets plenty of attention as well: a Warhol screen print of Marilyn Monroe, in a color that can only be described as acid bubblegum, is the first thing visitors see entering the gallery.
There’s a similar emphasis on emergent media: the inclusion of photography in the exhibition feels deliberately inconsistent with the scores of acrylics and oils—a thrilling Henri Cartier-Bresson shot of a speeding black Chevy, taken during the artist’s tenure in East Hampton, seems like it’s going to crash across the room into Hassam’s placid landscape. Same place, very different time. Time is crucial to this exhibition; it’s one of those shows where you feel like you’re walking through the evolution of an idea, from the kernel to the fruit.
Taken as a love letter to the evolution of 20th-century American art, An Adventure in the Arts is comprehensive, ingenious, and, most of all, a lot of fun.