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Exhibition in Sydney presents more than 80 works spanning 200 years of American art
Winslow Homer, A temperance meeting 1874. Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased with the John Howard McFadden Jr Fund 1956-118-1.

By: Dr Chris McAuliffe

SYDNEY.- This exhibition is a voyage through American history, across the American landscape and into the minds of the American people. It begins in the 18th century, among pious farmers and republican merchants. It traverses the continent, alongside Native Americans and frontiersman. It explores the great cities, and the lives of workers and bohemian artists. Answering the question, ‘What makes Americans American?’ is complex, but these paintings are a guide, revealing the self-reliance and communal beliefs, optimism and anxieties, that makes America tick.

America: painting a nation is the most expansive survey of American painting ever presented in Australia and is the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ major summer exhibition for 2013. It is part of the Sydney International Art Series which brings the world’s outstanding exhibitions to Australia, exclusive to Sydney, and has been made possible with the support of the NSW Government through Destination NSW. Over 80 works, ranging from 1750 to 1966, cover more than 200 years of American art, history and experience. The exhibition sets a course from New England to the Western frontier, from the Grand Canyon to the burlesque theatres of New York, from the aristocratic elegance of colonial society to the gritty realism of the modern metropolis.

This exhibition reveals the breadth of American history, the hardy morality of the frontier, the intimacy of family life, the intensity of the 20th-century city, the epic scale of its landscape and the diversity of its people. The works being presented – many by American masters – are the works Americans love and works that represent the stories they have grown up with.

America: painting a nation features well-known names – Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe and James Whistler among them. But most are less familiar; the ‘household names’ of American art are rarely seen in Australia. The exhibition will introduce Copley, Peale and Sully, the great portraitists of the Revolutionary era; Church, Cole and Moran, masters of the sublime landscape; Homer and Remington, lyric poets of the frontier; Cassatt, Sargent and Hassam, celebrators of the 19th-century Gilded Age; Sloan, Shinn and Henri, humanist observers of the early 20th century city; Demuth, Marin and Davis, the voices of a uniquely American vision of dynamic modern life.

Selected in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Terra Foundation, Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, America: painting a nation brings to Sydney both national and regional perspectives on American art. Diversity is a key theme in the exhibition. The cultural diversity of a continent inhabited first by Native American Indians; colonised by the Spanish, French and English; and developing through mass migration into a cultural melting pot. The physical diversity of a landscape encompassing the dense forests of the northeast, the endless plains of the Midwest, the awe-inspiring geography of the Grand Canyon and the stillness of the desert.

‘This exhibition signals a significant direction for the AGNSW by building relationships with major American museums and further developing our visitors’ engagement with American art and culture. While we have a fair share of American culture in Australia, especially through the media, we need to be better connected with American history and American vision. What we see in this exhibition is how America came to be America. The artists reveal America’s foundation narratives: the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, the frontiersman, the migrant. They explore the ideas, places and people that made America exceptional but equally there are works that don’t shy away from the darker chapters of American history either. Some of the paintings are very challenging’, said Michael Brand.

America: painting a nation
• The most expansive survey of American painting ever presented in Australia.

• Over 80 works, ranging from 1750 to 1966, cover more than 200 years of American art, history and experience.

• This exhibition features artists including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Georgia O’Keeffe, James McNeil Whistler, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.

• Works have come from four major institutions in the USA: The Terra Foundation, Chicago; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

• Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has lent its major work, Edward Hopper’s House at dusk 1935.

• Most of the works have never been seen in Australia.

• Sydney is the only Australian venue for this exhibition.

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