As the Princeton University Art Museum constructs a new building (set to open in 2024), more than 100 works of American art from its collection are traveling the country. The exhibition Object Lessons in American Art premiered at the Georgia Museum of Art
at the University of Georgia from February 4 to May 14, 2023. Spanning the 18th century to the present, Object Lessons features works of Euro-American, African American and Native American art and illustrates how fresh investigations and contemporary perspectives can inform and enrich its meaning. With these objects, the exhibition asks fundamental questions about artistic significance and how meaning changes across time, place and context. Following its appearance in Georgia, the exhibition will travel to the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut, and the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Kentucky.
Organized by Karl Kusserow, the Princeton University Art Museums John Wilmerding Curator of American Art, the exhibition focuses in particular on race, gender and the environment. It arranges its works of art in 30 separate groups, each intended to provoke new considerations and raise timely questions about American history and culture. These juxtapositions serve as object lessons gatherings of tangible artifacts that communicate an embodied idea or an abstract concept to anchor debates about the countrys complex social, racial and political history, thereby expanding our ideas about the history of American art.
The exhibition emphasizes how a broad array of artists contended with the most pressing issues of their and our time. It includes works by the enslaved potter David Drake, whose craft was a bold statement of resistance, and the artist Frederic Remington, who represented the Wild West in ways that stereotyped both white settlers and Native Americans, alongside recent works by contemporary artists such as Rande Cook, Renee Cox and Titus Kaphar. One section features three iconic portraits of George Washington, including one by Rembrandt Peale that lionizes the first American president as a godlike celebrity together with a photograph by Luke C. Dillon of the ruins of the slave quarters at Washingtons home, Mount Vernon, to remind us of the complexities of the man and his legacy.
Other works in the exhibition emphasize the central role of women in the history of American culture. Among them are a painting of the poet Annis Boudinot Stockton, one of the first American women to have her work published, and a finely rendered portrait of a colonial dame by the early American artist Sarah Perkins. Later works, including paintings by Georgia OKeeffe and Grace Hartigan and several prints by the anonymous feminist collective Guerrilla Girls, stress how much remains to be done for women to be fully integrated into our understanding of American art and history.
The continuously evolving relationship between American artists and the natural world functions as another of the exhibitions pillars. While Indigenous American understandings of humanitys place in nature often emphasize reciprocal relationships, Euro-Americans have typically stressed human domination and the subjugation of the landscape to the human will. Among the works the exhibition investigates in this light are Fitz Henry Lanes Ship in Fog, Gloucester Harbor, a seascape depicting the human and natural worlds as irrevocably intermingled, and the collective Postcommoditys Repellent Fence (2015), for which the group and its collaborators anchored 26 balloons decorated with Indigenous iconography across a 2-mile expanse at the U.S. Mexico Border to comment on the arbitrary nature of modern geopolitical divisions.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue distributed by Princeton University Press and edited and with a lead essay by Karl Kusserow, with additional essays by Kirsten Pai Buick (University of New Mexico), Ellery Foutch (Middlebury College), Horace Ballard (Harvard Art Museums), Jeffrey Richmond-Moll (Georgia Art Museum), and Rebecca Zorach (Northwestern University).
Object Lessons in American Art is made possible by the leadership support of the Terra Foundation for American Art. The Terra Foundation for American Art, established in 1978 and having offices in Chicago and Paris, supports organizations and individuals locally and globally with the aim of fostering intercultural dialogues and encouraging transformative practices that expand narratives of American art, through the foundations grant program, collection, and initiatives.
Associated events at the Georgia Museum of Art include:
A Teen Studio program on February 16 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. led by local artist Kristen Bach (ages 13 18; free but email email@example.com to register)
Student Night, geared to UGA students, also on February 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
A talk by in-house curator Jeffrey Richmond-Moll on February 22 at 2 p.m.
A Toddler Tuesday on March 7 at 10 a.m. (for ages 18 months to 3 years; free but register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org)
The 2023 Emerging Scholars Symposium, Rethinking America: Contemporary Contemplations on American Art, on March 23 and 24, with a keynote speech by Nika Elder (full schedule at georgiamuseum.org/rethinking-america/)
A reception on March 24 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. hosted by the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art with light refreshments, door prizes and more; $15 Not Yet Friends; $10 Friends of the Museum and Friend + Annual Fund Members; free for Friend + Annual Fund Members (Reciprocal level and above); register at https://bit.ly/90c-mar-23
A Faculty Perspectives talk by UGAs Akela Reason on April 12 at 2 p.m.
A Family Day on April 15 from 10 a.m. to noon.
A talk by Katherine Katie Jentleson, Merrie and Dan Boone Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, on April 20 at 5:30 p.m.
And a Gallery Talk, Race, Representation, and Self-Presentation in American Art co-sponsored by UGAs Interdisciplinary Modernism/s Workshop and led by Richmond-Moll, on April 25 at 1 p.m.
Events are free and open to the public unless otherwise indicated. Family Day is sponsored by Lucy and Buddy Allen and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art. Student Night is generously sponsored by the UGA Parents Leadership Council.