Exhibition examines how landscape art has impacted the way we envision nature

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Exhibition examines how landscape art has impacted the way we envision nature
John Douglas, View of the Hudson Highlands with Woman Painting, late 19th C. Oil on canvas. Gift of Florence E. Kelley, 88.2.1. Collection of the Hudson River Museum.

YONKERS, NY.- The Hudson River Museum announces its fall exhibition Walks with Artists: The Hudson Valley and Beyond, on view October 7, 2017 through January 21, 2018. For centuries, the Hudson Valley has attracted intrepid artists to explore and depict its natural splendor. These views have then been collected, displayed, and impacted the way we envision nature. In 40 paintings, prints, and photographs from the Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition examines the key role artists play in bringing views of nature indoors—in a domestic or gallery setting—while inspiring our own outdoor itineraries.

The exhibition connects artists and artworks across decades and even centuries and is organized around the elements that artists use to compose landscape paintings—trees and terrain; figures and structures, water and sky. These works, many of which are recent acquisitions on view for the first time, range from the 19th century—featuring Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand, and landscapes by George Inness and Louis Aston Knight—to today, with modern works by Joseph DiGiorgio, Ralph Fasanella, Richard Haas, Ellen Kozak, Alison Moritsugu, and Jack Stuppin and underscore the centrality of landscape in our thought, then as now.

Walks with Artists welcomes visitors to consider their own relationship to nature, both experienced and seen, and how in stunning depictions of rolling rivers, verdant farmlands, and forested mountains, these images encourage us to venture into our surroundings, and even inspire environmental preservation. In the early 20th century, encroaching industrialization and development mobilized environmental concerns and nostalgia for unspoiled countryside. This spurred local preservation movements, including the creation of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, protecting this quintessential element of the Hudson River landscape. As recently as this summer, defenders of the Hudson River stopped a proposal to dock barges of fracked oil along its scenic banks.

The Museum plays its own role as a custodian of the landscape: a dozen paintings have undergone recent conservation treatments and are on display for the first time in Walks with Artists. Chief Curator Laura Vookles, who organized the exhibition, states, “Landscape art is always relevant. Our desire to understand how we relate to nature and why we find meadows, mountains, and rivers beautiful and worth preserving connects us to artists today and back to the Hudson River School. The path from contemplating the land to cultivating and exploiting it is a perilous continuum; looking at art can be a call to action.”

As a component of this exhibition, the Museum will host a photography contest, with the assignment to capture a vista of the local environment rooted in the thematic elements of the exhibition—trees and terrain; figures and structures, water and sky. The winning photographs will be displayed in the Museum Lobby as an entry point into the exhibition, and on HRM’s social media channels, adding an interactive and community-driven element.

In the 19th century, bringing the beauty of the outdoors inside through art was considered restorative, educational, and morally uplifting. Artists would travel up the Hudson River in search of inspiring views. A Hudson River School painting, View of the Hudson Highlands with Woman Painting by John Douglas emphasizes the grandeur of the landscape by including the comparatively tiny figure of the painter in the act of capturing the view. In contrast to this simple contemplation, Thomas Cole draws a young man in a boat through an allegorical landscape symbolizing life’s challenges and bounties, in a print from his series The Voyage of Life. These earlier depictions of people in the landscape provide historical context for Jordan Matter’s 2011 photograph Vista, depicting a dancer in arabesque overlooking the Palisades.

Painted or real, landscape views imply an observer. Elements of the landscapes entice us to experience the virtual outdoors, while structures remind us of our interaction and impact on the land. The rippling surface of the water became Ellen Kozak’s focus in her Hudson River Primer series in the 1990s, when she walked to the edge and started a new painting each summer morning. Jack Stuppin created a sweeping view of Tatashu Farm, Catskills (2016) that reflects our abiding love of the mountains that originally influenced Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School, while Joseph DiGiorgio immersed us in the trees of the forest floor in his New York State Series (1999). In the 1980s, Joellyn Duesberry painted a peaceful day in the Highlands, but her title reveals a threat to the famous shoreline: Cement Factory, Hudson River. Given the continued development and pollution in our time, we cannot help but enter these paintings with our own concerns as we gain a new understanding of the viewpoints of three centuries of artists.

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