"Becoming America" at the Huntington
|Johnathan and Karen Fielding Wing. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen|
“Wing” isn’t quite the word. Most of the new space fills in a gap between Paul Gray’s original 1984 Scott Gallery and Fisher’s 2005 addition, the Lois and Robert F. Erburu Gallery. The entrance is a glass house in an American landscape, echoing those of Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. Fisher cites the influence of Denmark’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. The room is both lobby and exhibition space, showing stoneware jugs and a wall of functional American metalwork. It’s a West Coast answer to Albert Barnes’ kooky walls of metalwork.
|Entrance to Fielding Wing. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen|
This glass-walled room has a sightline, through four new galleries, to Fisher’s glass loggia on the other side of the building, showing modern bronze sculptures and views of the San Gabriel Mountains. In all, there are eight new interior galleries. None have skylights in order to accommodate light-sensitive works. One room shows 18th-century furniture and paintings from the recently bequeathed collection of Thomas Oxford and Victor Gail.
Two rooms focus on painting, and they include many of the most prized vernacular artists, such as portraitists Ammi Philips and Sheldon Peck (three paintings each) and marine painters James Bard and Thomas Chambers.
James Bard (1815-1897) demonstrates how the folk aesthetic lingered long past photography and the establishment of an urban art market. Bard was a railroad mechanic who painted ships as a sideline. He died dirt-poor, like many of the artists here, was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Brooklyn.
Bard’s painting of the steamboat Peter Crary is one of two known. Steamboats were cutting-edge technology. Only the Fielding version shows it tugging an obsolescent(?) sail boat. It’s a steampunk progress of empire.
two at upstate New York’s Fenimore Art Museum. In a YouTube video, Jonathan Fielding likens the Gilman portrait to Modigliani. The nose, angled a good 60 degrees from a perpendicular to the facial plane, is more Picasso. The too-close eyes in a too-big head is South Park. It is certainly the cartoony element that grabs the viewer. Albert G. Gilman reads as a caricature, voicing the anxieties that Yankee taciturnity leaves unsaid.
The Fielding collection includes more conventional levels of polish. Sheldon Peck’s A Young Man with a Red Curtain was discovered under a framed print on a 1997 episode of Antiques Roadshow. The widow-peaked gent is more dashing, but perhaps less memorable, than Ellis’ schoolteacher.
is bringing Native Americans into American art history. “Being America” foregrounds the Northeastern nations of the Iroquois, Ojibwe, and Mohegan. Many took up the craft of applying faux finishes to wood. Originally intended to duplicate the grain of expensive imported woods, this type of decoration took on a life of its own. Anonymous was a woman, and “fancy” was often an Indian.
|Photo: Fredrik Nilsen|