Florence Griswold Museum is exclusive venue for Princeton University Art Museum traveling exhibition

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Florence Griswold Museum is exclusive venue for Princeton University Art Museum traveling exhibition
Marsden Hartley(American,1877–1943), Blue Landscape, 1942. Oil on board; 40.6 × 50.8 cm. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund and Kathleen Compton Sherrerd Fund for Acquisitions in American Art.

OLD LYME, CONN.- This summer, from June 3 through September 10, 2023, the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, presents a traveling exhibition organized by the Princeton University Art Museum. Object Lessons in American Art: Selections from the Princeton University Art Museum presents more than seventy examples of Euro-American, African American, and Native American art created between the eighteenth century and today. Together these works pose fundamental questions about artistic significance and how meaning changes across time, place, and context. “We are thrilled to be one of only three stops in the country, and the only one in the northeast, for this inspiring show,” states Executive Director Joshua Campbell Torrance. “It’s a unique opportunity for our audiences to see works by these marquee artists on display in the Florence Griswold Museum galleries.”

The exhibition, curated by Karl Kusserow, the Princeton University Art Museum’s John Wilmerding Curator of American Art, focuses in particular on race, gender, and the environment. Works are displayed in discrete groups, each intended to provoke new considerations and raise timely questions about American history and culture. These juxtapositions serve as “object lessons”—gatherings of tangible artifacts that communicate an embodied idea or an abstract concept—to anchor debates about the country’s complex social, racial, and political history, thereby expanding our ideas about American art history.

“Object Lessons in American Art builds on centuries of collecting at Princeton that continues robustly today to re-examine objects both beloved and little known and, in doing so, affords opportunities to interrogate the American past and present in profoundly relevant ways,” notes James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, Director. “It invites the exhibition visitor into an active role in their own meaning-making.”

The exhibition emphasizes how a broad array of artists contended with, sometimes by obscuring, the most pressing issues of their—and our own—time. Included in the exhibition are works by the enslaved potter David Drake, whose craft was a bold statement of resistance, alongside recent works by contemporary artists such as Rande Cook, Renee Cox, and Titus Kaphar. One section features iconic portraits of George Washington, including one by Rembrandt Peale that lionizes the first American president as a godlike celebrity together with a photograph by Luke C. Dillon of the ruins of the slave quarters at Washington's home, Mount Vernon, to remind us of the complexities of the man and his legacy.

Other artworks emphasize the shifting role of women and their representation in the history of American culture. Among them is a finely rendered portrait of a “colonial dame” by Plainfield, Connecticut, artist Sarah Perkins. Later works, including paintings by Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Grace Hartigan and several works by the anonymous feminist collective Guerrilla Girls, stress how much remains to be done for women to be fully integrated into our understanding of American art and history.

The continuously evolving relationship between American artists and the natural world functions as another of the exhibition’s pillars. While Indigenous American understandings of humanity’s place in nature often emphasize harmony, Euro-Americans have typically stressed human domination and the subjugation of the landscape to the human will. Among the works the exhibition investigates in this light are Fitz Henry Lane’s Ship in Fog, Gloucester Harbor, a seascape depicting the human and natural worlds as irrevocably intermingled, and the collective Postcommodity’s Repellent Fence (2015), for which the group and its collaborators anchored twenty-six balloons decorated with indigenous iconography across a two-mile expanse at the US–Mexico Border to comment on the arbitrary nature of modern geopolitical divisions.

“The innovative approach of this exhibition to interpret historical works of American art through a socially conscious lens is one that we have also implemented at the Florence Griswold Museum, where we consistently seek to make the lessons of art history relevant for audiences’ contemporary life,” explains Associate Curator Jennifer Stettler Parsons, Ph.D., who coordinated the show in Connecticut. For the Florence Griswold Museum’s installation, Dr. Parsons added an “Object Lesson” from Old Lyme, which nods to the Museum’s connection to Princeton University. Prompted by his wife, artist Ellen Axson Wilson, Woodrow Wilson visited the Lyme Art Colony while he was president of Princeton (1902-1910). Visitors are encouraged to look at the Wilson objects from the Museum’s permanent collection through the lenses of race, class, and gender and consider the Wilsons’ complicated legacy.

Object Lessons in American Art is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue distributed by Princeton University Press and edited and with a lead essay by Karl Kusserow, with additional essays by Kirsten Pai Buick (University of New Mexico), Ellery Foutch (Middlebury College), Horace Ballard (Harvard Art Museums), Jeffrey Richmond-Moll (Georgia Art Museum), and Rebecca Zorach (Northwestern University). It is available for purchase in the Museum’s shop and online.

This exhibition is curated by Karl Kusserow, John Wilmerding Curator of American Art, Princeton University Art Museum, and overseen at the Florence Griswold Museum by Jennifer Stettler Parsons, Ph.D., Associate Curator. Object Lessons in American Art is made possible by the leadership support of the Terra Foundation for American Art. The accompanying publication is made possible by the generous support of Annette Merle-Smith and by additional support from the Barr Ferree Foundation Fund for Publications, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University. At the Florence Griswold Museum, support comes from the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts, HSB, The Aeroflex Foundation, The David T. Langrock Foundation, Mrs. Kathryn Parsons and Mr. J. Geddes Parsons, Mr. Wayne Harms and Mrs. Barbara Harms, and WSHU Public Radio, as well as donors to the Museum’s Annual Fund.

The Florence Griswold Museum, located in the heart of historic Old Lyme, Connecticut, has been called a “Giverny in Connecticut” by the Wall Street Journal, and a “must-see” by the Boston Globe. In addition to the restored Florence Griswold House, the Museum features a gallery for changing art exhibitions, education and landscape centers, a restored artist’s studio, twelve acres along the Lieutenant River, the Robert F. Schumann Artists’ Trail, and extensive gardens. Its seasonal Café Flo was recognized as “best outdoor dining” by Connecticut Magazine. The Museum offers a full slate of exhibitions, programs, virtual tours, and online resources.

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