Art often tells a story. But can it tell our story?
The High Museum is doing just that in their expansive new exhibit, “Cross Country.” The show collects almost 200 works from artists working at the beginning of the 20th century, and shows the development of American art, region by region.
The exhibition features not only trained painters who worked outside of major American cities but also photographers and self-taught artists who were earning major recognition from the American art world for the first time in history. Featured artists include N. C. Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Grandma Moses, Hale Woodruff, Ansel Adams, and Dorothea Lange among many others.
“We have an opportunity to really take a fresh look at this very interesting, rich moment between the wars in the early 20th century,” the High Museum’s Curator of American Art Stephanie Heydt told "City Lights" host Lois Reitzes. “Rather than the approach that we’re all very used to where we look at one group of artists or the photographers from this period or folk and self-taught artists from this moment, we’re really peeling away those divisions and investigating what our cultural landscape looked like then.”
The exhibit includes a quote from artist Grant Wood which reads “I spent 20 years around the world hunting ‘arty’ subjects to paint. I came back home and the first thing I noticed was the cross-stitched embroidery of my mother’s apron.”
Statements like that alongside the work on display suggest an emerging self-confidence in American artists drawing inspiration from America, rather than Europe, which dominated the world of high art up to that point.
“There’s also the rise of the self-taught artist in this period,” Katherine Jentleson, curator of folk and self-taught art at the High, said. “It’s the first moment when artists who never went to a formal art academy started getting recognition from major institutions. And the same thing was happening to photographers in this period.”
“It was really this expansive broadening of who could be an artist in America in this moment, and we wanted to capture that."
“Cross Country: The Power of Place in American Art, 1915–1950” is open now at the High Museum of Art and runs through May 7.