Out of the Vault: 95 Years of Collecting at MAM
Marking the occasion of MAM’s 95th anniversary, and its distinction as the first institution in New Jersey designed as a museum, the exhibition celebrates the Museum’s unique focus on American and Native American art in this installation of over 60 works. The works selected include 23 recent acquisitions and nearly 40 familiar treasures. Twenty-one of the works in the show have never before been on view at the Museum. Many of the most recent acquisitions are by living artists, a testament to the origins of the Museum as an institution that collected the contemporary art of its time, with the donation of such works as Childe Hassam’s Summer at Cos Cob (1902) by MAM co-founder William T. Evans in 1915.
The industrial, urban landscape has been a prevalent theme of modern art, as depicted in works on view by a variety of earlier artists ranging from Elsie Driggs, Preston Dickinson, and Theordore Roszak in the 1920s and 30s, to Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg in the 1960s. The inspiration of mythology and Native American art informs the 1940s’ work of Steve Wheeler and Robert Motherwell.
In the 19th century, the varied strands of realism are suggested by the portraiture of Cecilia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, and Thomas Eakins, as well as the meticulous landscapes of the Hudson River School masters Asher B. Durand and Thomas Cole. Other works, especially by James McNeill Whistler and George Inness, demonstrate a growing desire to interpret rather than imitate nature.
The 18th- and 19th-century historical commentaries of Benjamin West and Thomas Ball on the virtues and vices of government and slavery are offset by Kara Walker’s recent prints addressing the Civil War conflicts from the vantage point of her African American heritage. In the title of her neighboring lithograph, Native American artist Jaune Quick-To-See Smith poses the fundamental question that underlies the entire installation—What Is an American?
The exhibition was organized by MAM’s Chief Curator, Gail Stavitsky, and Twig Johnson, Senior Curator of Native American Art at MAM.