Charles Sheeler: Across Media at National Gallery of Art

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Charles Sheeler: Across Media at National Gallery of Art
Charles Sheeler (1883 - 1965). Architectural Planes, 1947. oil on canvas. Gift of Saundra B. Lane in memory of her husband, William H. Lane, and purchase through the Stoddard Acquisition Fund, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts 1996.58

WASHINGTON, DC.- The complex relationships between photography, film, painting, and drawing that were so central to the art of American modernist Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) are highlighted in Charles Sheeler: Across Media. On view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, through August 27, 2006, the show will travel to the Art Institute of Chicago October 7, 2006, through January 7, 2007, and to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, de Young, February 10 through May 6, 2007.

The exhibition features many of the artist’s greatest achievements, including striking examples from his famous 1917 series of photographs made in Doylestown, Pennsylvania; the film “Manhatta,” made in collaboration with Paul Strand in 1920; and two of Sheeler’s best-known paintings, the iconic images of the Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant Classic Landscape (1931) and American Landscape (1930).

“A celebration of the formal clarity and beauty of the artist’s works, this exhibition draws upon a core of masterpieces recently added to the Gallery’s collection. We are proud to present these new holdings as well as loans from public and private collections to the American public,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “The National Gallery of Art is delighted to premiere this survey of art by an important American original and is grateful to Altria Group, Inc., for their sponsorship.”

“For nearly 50 years, the Altria family of companies has supported hundreds of arts organizations that celebrate the vision and voices of established and emerging artists. We believe the arts are an essential part of a vibrant community and are so pleased to sponsor the important exhibition, Charles Sheeler: Across Media. Charles Sheeler was an innovator who brilliantly linked art, commerce, design and technology in ways that move and inspire. We hope this exhibition will give audiences the opportunity to discover his views of America and to learn more about their own,” said Jennifer Goodale, Vice President of Contributions at Altria Group.

Charles Sheeler: Across Media showcases 52 works: 14 paintings, 17 photographs, 18 drawings, one print, one photomural, and one film. Organized chronologically and covering the major themes of Sheeler’s career, the exhibition will enable viewers to compare works of the same subject rendered in a variety of media.

The exhibition opens with a small selection of Sheeler’s seminal c. 1917 photographs of the interior of an 18th-century Quaker fieldstone house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. In these highly experimental night scenes, such as The Stove and Stairway with Chair, Sheeler took a familiar antiquarian subject and translated it into a modernist abstraction. Sheeler’s first major achievement as a photographer, these works were immediately championed by Alfred Stieglitz and later inspired the drawing, The Open Door (1932), and the painting, The Upstairs (1938).

In 1920 Sheeler collaborated with Paul Strand on “Manhatta,” widely regarded as the first avant-garde film made in the United States. A DVD transfer from a vintage print of this fascinating ten-minute montage of New York City’s urban landscape, with titles and captions from poems by Walt Whitman, will be projected continuously in close proximity to a number of related photographs and paintings from the early 1920s, including Church Street El (1920) and Skyscapers (1922).

Moving from the rural to the urban to the industrial, the second room of the exhibition highlights Sheeler’s finest works from the series of iconic paintings and drawings inspired by the commercial photographs of the River Rouge Plant that the Ford Motor Company commissioned him to do in 1927. Including watercolor studies for both Classic Landscape (1928) and American Landscape (1930) and a magnificent group of Conté crayon drawings, they make clear how Sheeler’s name became virtually synonymous with depictions of the American industrial landscape. Also featured here will be a seven-by-twelve foot photomontage mural based on Sheeler’s study Industry (1932). Murals were a popular medium in the 1930s and Sheeler, along with Georgia O’Keeffe, Ben Shahn, Berenice Abbott, and others, was invited to submit his design as part of the exhibition Murals by American Painters and Photographers, organized in 1932 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Summarizing Sheeler’s ongoing practice of revisiting subjects in different media will be the enigmatic masterpiece The Artist Looks at Nature (1943) in which Sheeler paints himself in the process of sketching the 1932 drawing Interior with Stove that was in turn based on the 1917 Doylestown photograph The Stove. The show brings together the painting and its related works together for the first time.

Across Media concludes with a select group of images of New England mills inspired by Sheeler’s experiments with photomontage in the 1940s and 1950s, such as the Conté crayon work Counterpoint (1949) and the oil New England Irrelevancies (1953), which are among the most complex and intriguing achievements of his entire career.

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