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The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery Presents The Unknown Blakelock
Ralph Albert Blakelock, Woodland Brook, courtsey of Albright-Know Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., gift of the Elizabeth Elser Doolittle Charitable Trust.

LINCOLN, NEBRASKA.-The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery presents The Unknown Blakelock, on view through April 05, 2008. Loans from museums throughout the country compose this retrospective of 40-plus paintings by Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847-1919). On view together for the first time, these works explore Blakelock's surprising breadth of themes and give credence to the painter as a primary influence on 20th-century American painting.

Often viewed as a 19th-century landscape romanticist, Blakelock has been historically associated with two dominant themes, moonlight scenes and Indian encampments. His broader accomplishments, obscured by his tragic mental illness and numerous forgeries produced in his style, have been largely overlooked by critics.

The Unknown Blakelock presents the artist’s grander vision and explores its effect on today’s artists.

Modern art scholars, including Norman Geske in his recently published Beyond Madness: The Art of Ralph Albert Blakelock, extoll a proto-modern vision in Blakelock’s artworks.

They find his influence on contemporary painters from the 1950’s Abstract Expressionists (Blakelock paintings were in Franz Kline’s collection) to those working today. This more comprehensive view of Blakelock’s artwork finds many themes – western landscapes, Native American scenes, Jamaican landscapes, shanty scenes, seascapes, still lifes and imaginary/fantasy compositions.

One gallery in the exhibition is devoted to the authentication of Blakelock’s work. In 1969 Geske launched The Nebraska Blakelock Inventory as a means of analyzing paintings attributed to the artist. Paintings that are absolutely and unquestionably by Blakelock’s hand are placed in Category I. Category II paintings are those that lack either a history of ownership or his signature. Category III works are those that lack both signature and provenance, and show discrepancies in style, making attribution questionable. Examples in Category IV are those that are completely and unmistakably wrong — frequently and lovingly called “Fakelocks.”

A catalogue, accompaning the exhibition, includes three essays and Jan Driesbach’s foreword, which provides context for works in the exhibition. “Identifying the Unknown Blakelock” by Geske examines the full scope of Blakelock’s accomplishment. Mark Mitchell’s essay “Radical Color: Blakelock in Context” explores Blakelock’s use of vibrant, saturated hues in relation to contemporary artistic movements and its role in the development of his early reputation. “Ralph Albert Blakelock and Contemporary Painting” by Daniel Siedell, draws on several artist interviews about the nature of Blakelock’s painting offering insight into the state of contemporary painting, and also revealing something about Blakelock’s distinctive aesthetic worldview.

The Blakelock paintings in the exhibition will be reinstalled at Sheldon in May with works from the permanent collection to illustrate the artist’s influence on contemporary American painters. The reinstallation will be on view from April through August. The Unknown Blakelock will be on exhibit at the The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts in New York City from September 25, 2008, through January 4, 2009. There will be an opening reception for the exhibition in New York on October 1.

The exhibition, catalogue and programs are generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, as well as Ameritas Charitable Foundation, the Nebraska Arts Council, Ethel S. Abbott Charitable Foundation and the Nebraska Art Association.

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