Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Utica, NY

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American Twentieth-Century Watercolors from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute


The landmark exhibition, "American Twentieth-Century Watercolors from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute," opening to the public Sunday, April 30, 2000 is the first-ever-comprehensive study of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute's rich and distinguished collection of watercolors.

"American Twentieth-Century Watercolors" is comprised of 50 of the museum's finest watercolors, dating 1902 to 1962, and features works by the century's most gifted practitioners of the medium.

"American Twentieth-Century Watercolors" features a wide array of approaches to subject matter and technique. Landscape artists especially prized the medium because it was a relatively portable. Maurice Brazil Prendergast and Arthur Bowen Davies, for example, painted watercolors in Venice and France, respectively, while George Luks executed them at a remote campsite in Canada, and Edward Hopper used the medium during his summer sojourns on Cape Cod. Artists such as Dong Kingman, Reginald Marsh, and Everett Shinn, who painted the urban scene, found watercolor's portability equally advantageous to capture the dynamism of city life.

Traditionally watercolor is a medium of transparent washes that are layered onto dampened paper, whose brilliance is allowed to shine through veils of paint. The exhibition is rich with examples of traditional techniques by Charles Demuth, Jacob Getlar Smith, Adolf Dehn, and others. In the twentieth century, however, challenges to traditional painting methods abounded. (right: Charles Demuth (1883-1935), Red Tulips, 1924, watercolor on paper, 12 1/16 x 18 1/8 inches, Gift of Mrs. James L. Lowery, 79.39)

"American Twentieth-Century Watercolors" includes numerous examples that incorporate drawing media and opaque water-based paint with transparent washes. Charles Burchfield, one of the century's most important watercolorists, was very unorthodox in the combinations of materials he used in his mature works. (left: Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Poplar Walk, 1916, transparent opaque watercolor over graphite on medium-weight smooth paper, 19 15/16 x 13 15/16 inches, Edward W. Root Bequest, 57.103)

As the century progressed and artists of the United States explored abstract imagery, watercolors played an important role in allowing painters to experiment with fluid forms to achieve spontaneous effects with quick-drying water-based paints. By mid-century, artists associated with the New York School (also called Abstract Expressionism) such as William Baziotes, Jimmy Ernst, Sonja Sekula, Richard Pousette-Dart, and Dorothy Dehner painted in non-representational styles with ink and wash to mine personal, spiritual, and psychological subject matter.

Mary E. Murray, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Arts Institute, organized American Twentieth-Century Watercolors.

The exhibition catalog is fully illustrated and includes an introductory essay that documents the formation of the Institute's collection and examines the critical reception to watercolors in this century. In addition, each of the fifty watercolors is documented with complete provenance, exhibition, and publication histories, and an essay authored by Murray or a guest scholar: Gall Levin, Joan Marter, Paul D. Schweizer, Roberta Tarbell, or Bert Winther-Tamaki.

"American Twentieth-Century Watercolors at the Munson-Williams-Procter Institute" is the fourth in a series of exhibitions and catalogs the Museum of Art has produced to make its extensive holdings in American paintings, works on paper, and decorative arts more widely known. The exhibition catalog is available from the Institute's Art Shop Gift Gallery.

Conservation of selected works in the exhibition was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. The exclusive area sponsor for the exhibition is Bullock & Gilroy. Supplementary funding is provided by an endowment established at the Institute by David E. and Jane B. Sayre Bryant.

"Twentieth-Century Watercolors at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute" will subsequently travel to the W. A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, and to the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Read more about the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

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