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Permanent Collection: American Narratives at The Sheldon MAG
Walt Kuhn, The Guide, 1931

LINCOLN, NE.- The Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery presents Permanent Collection: American Narratives, on view through July 1, 2008. The Sheldon’s outstanding collections document the development of art in the United States through the American experience, offering insightful narratives into the artists and their times. This year's permanent collection installation opened in early August. It offers galleries focused on: Realism and Impressionism, American Modernism, The Beats, Mid-Century American Art, Recent Narratives, and Contemporary Views.

The opening installation, in the Rohman Family Gallery, shares artwork from the 1840s to the turn of the 20th century. Severin Roesen’s Still Life with Fruit and Champagne Glass speaks to the affluence of his Pennsylvania patrons. Seth Eastman’s drawing On the Leona Riveris from the artist’s 1848 sketchbook while he was in embattled Texas and Theodore Robinson’s Port Ben, Delaware and Hudson Canal depicts a native subject with an element of nostalgia. George Bellows’ Tin Can Battle, San Juan Hill, New York of 1907 offers a scene of lower class everyday life in the city.

In November a Portraiture gallery will replace the Realism and Impressionism gallery, The new gallery will welcome John Singleton Copley’s Nicholas Boylston, an American masterpiece on an extended loan to the Sheldon from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. For more information, please click Nicholas Boylston

With the advent of the new century, American artists at once adopted styles from their European counterparts and sought to develop distinctively American subject matter. While Italian-born Joseph Stella adopted the current Futurist style for Battle of Lights, Coney Island, emphasizing the movement and modernity of his motif, the eponymous amusement park he depicted is integrally associated with New York City. Similarly, Georgia O’Keeffe’s New York, Night conveys the spectacle of the urban center. John Marin, Ben Shahn, and Jacob Lawrence focus their attention on the people who populate this modern city in their renderings affluent shoppers or disadvantaged youth at play.

Works from the 1950s Beat generation, those artists, writers and musicians who expressed anti-authoritarian views of American society through their art are on view in another gallery. Artists whose artworks are on view include Wiliam Burroughs, Wallace Berman and George Herms.

In their attempt to bring attention to America’s consumer culture, Pop artists focused on cultural icons, advertising and consumer excess. Their art will be the focus of a 1960s gallery. Works by Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana and Roy Lichtenstein as well as a few of their predecessors from the Abstract Expressionist movement are on view.

From the 1970s, American art has been characterized by its multiplicity of styles. By the 1970s Philip Guston, who came to fame for his luminous Abstract Expressionist paintings, was creating powerful, enigmatic figurative paintings featuring large heads, shoes, ladders, and other symbolic motifs. Like many of his contemporaries, Guston asked viewers to bring their own experiences to interpreting the narrative content he suggested. A similar approach can be seen in outstanding canvases by Roy DeForest and Lari Pittman. Carrie Mae Weems, however, asks us to reflect upon historical events she presents—the African slave trade in her Grabbing, Snatching, Blink.

Contemporary artists continue to pursue narrative interests, even in compositions that may initially impress us as abstractions. For instance, Thomas Nozkowski’s paintings, such as Untitled (7-87) always originate in a specific observed event, and Leslie Dill’s sculpture Voice references the poetry of Emily Dickinson and, in its materials and sewn construction, addresses gender associations in the United States historically and in the present.

On September 9 at 2 p.m., Sheldon Director Jan Driesbach will speak about Barcelona White Bar, a significant new addition to the Sheldon collection on view in the Contemporary gallery.

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