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The Redwood Library & Athenaeum opens Paris Salon exhibition
Jules-Joseph-Guillaume Bourdet, Le Salon de 1834, Lithograph from Le Charivari (March 18. 1834)

NEWPORT, RI.- The Redwood Library & Athenaeum launched its latest exhibition, Modernity vs. Tradition: Art at the Parisian Salon 1750-1900 on Friday, December 1st. The show traces the 200-year history of the Salon through a rich gathering of prints, pamphlets, press images and published criticism. The signal aesthetic space of modern spectacle culture, the Parisian Salon remains the indispensable precursory context that gave rise to virtually everything defining today’s art world: from superstar artists and the art market to museum exhibitions and biennales; from consumer culture to institutionalized art history.

“We haven’t traditionally apprehended the Salon—the principal expression of the Parisian high art scene—from this sort of bottom-up perspective. Yet its evolution into a popular cultural phenomenon comparable to the Super Bowl gives us a view onto a time when art had mass appeal,” said Redwood Executive Director and exhibition curator, Benedict Leca. “By the mid-nineteenth century everybody went to the Salon, and its widespread press coverage as both popular entertainment and shop window for artists make it particularly revealing about the intersection of art, media and consumerism.”

Assembled from a private collection, and supplemented by rare volumes from the Redwood Library’s holdings, the exhibition charts the evolution of the Salon, from the early presentations rooted in the civic pageantry of royal patronage, through the Enlightenment Salons of the Royal Academy and the highly contested nineteenth-century exhibitions, all the way to the culminating presentations of the Universal Exposition of 1900.

Traditional art histories of the Salon have tended to focus on the individual narratives of high art personalities and movements operating in accord or in contrast to the policies of alternating governments and arts administrations. The exhibition instead positions the Salon within contemporary print culture, illuminating its treatment in newspapers and press imagery on one hand, and in the more enduring arena of official livrets, secondary catalogues, and art criticism published in books, pamphlets and periodicals on the other.

Featuring over 75 works, the exhibition includes a range of salon livrets spanning two hundred years, a number of rare pamphlets treating the early Salons, period newspapers, examples of the two known explicatory pamphlets produced by Jacques-Louis David, a varied display of published critical treatments of the Salon, a concentrated selection of press images depicting the Salon and its component events from jury selection to opening and presentation, a choice grouping of satiric Daumier lithographs from the Charivari, and a concentration of photographs, ephemera and rare published critical treatments of the art exhibitions of the Universal Exposition of 1900.

The exhibition is divided into ten discrete groupings:

• The Imprint of Authority: Royal Patronage, the Académie and the Livret
• Jacques-Louis David and the ‘Counter-Exhibition’
• Press and Public: The Salon 1800-1850
• Viewing Art in the City of Spectacle
• The Golden Age of the Modern Salon
• Anxiety at the Salon: Preparation and Openings
• Honoré Daumier and the Satirical Salon
• Archetypes of the Salon
• The Salon at the Universal Exposition of 1900
• The Universal Exposition of 1900 in Print

Named after the Salon carré at the Louvre, where it was held between 1725 and 1848, the Salon’s rise as the world’s preeminent regular exhibition of contemporary art was intertwined with the rise of a modern viewing public and of the larger political public sphere. In that sense, as a politically charged site of aesthetic contemplation defined by both text and image it is coincident with the Redwood Library itself: “It is particularly resonant to hold this exhibition devoted to the Parisian Salon in a locale that functioned similarly and had the same effect in eighteenth-century America. As the nation’s first purpose-built library structure, the Redwood is America’s original ‘think space;’ and we of course know from what transpired in 1776 that it didn’t merely promote polite attitudes as per the intent of traditional libraries—on the contrary," explains exhibition curator Benedict Leca.

Organized by the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the exhibition will be on view in the Van Alen Gallery from December 1, 2017 to April 8, 2018.

The gallery presentation is made possible by a generous donation from Cornelius C. Bond and Ann E. Blackwell, and an in-kind donation by Sandra Liotus Lighting LLC

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