In a collaboration worthy of Marvel, four international art institutions are teaming up to bring America’s national artistic heritage to a global audience. Paris’s Musée du Louvre, Atlanta, Georgia’s High Museum of Art, Bentonville, Arkansas’s newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the Chicago-based Terra Foundation for American Art are launching a four-year initiative of annual traveling exhibitions to broaden the conversation about traditional American art.
The initiative has been in the works since 2007 and began as a conversation following the High’s “Louvre Atlanta” exhibitions, according to High director Michael Shapiro. The impetus came from an unlikely source — “[Louvre director] Henri Loyette has a real passion for American art,” Shapiro said, noting that the new exhibitions will build on the Louvre’s own small collection of American art. (In this case, as in the initiative’s press release, “American” refers to art from the U.S. rather than the Americas as a whole.)
The collaboration begins with the traveling exhibition “New Frontier: Thomas Cole and the Birth of Landscape Painting in America,” which explores the Transcendentalist painter’s formative influence on American art in the context of works by fellow American landscape painter Asher B. Durand and 17th-century French artist Pierre-Antoine Patel the Younger, whose work Cole studied in Paris. Featured works include Cole’s 1862 “The Tempest,” Durand’s 1837 “View Near Rutland, Vermont,” and Patel’s 1699 “The Summer.”
For Terra Foundation president Elizabeth Glassman, the collaboration is about “introducing American art to another audience,” helping international visitors to “be able to discover American paintings that they were not aware of before,” and exposing an American visual culture that predates the overwhelming popularity of United States modernism and contemporary art. “We don’t want to segregate more traditional American art, but to animate it,” Glassman said.
“New Frontier” will premiere at the Louvre on January 14, 2012 alongside a symposium entitled “American Art: New Projects and Installations at the Louvre and at Museums in the United States and Around the World,” which will feature presentations by the leadership of all four institutions. After it debuts at the Louvre, the exhibition will travel to Crystal Bridges and then the High, where it will be augmented by selections from the museums’s permanent collections. The curatorial teams of each museum will take turns helming the following three exhibitions.
When ARTINFO noted that traditional American landscape painting might not be the first thing on audiences’s minds during the current period of contemporary art dominance, Shapiro laughed. “The fact that it’s unpopular is often a good reason to do something,” he said.