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The Land Through a Lens: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

March 2 - April 27, 2004


The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art presents The Land Through a Lens: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum March 2 - April 27, 2004 in the LRMA Lower Level Galleries. Judith Moore, Curatorial Research Assistant at The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D.C., will speak at the exhibtion opening March 4 at 5:30 p.m., followed by the opening reception from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. (right: Allen Hess, Oak Alley Plantation, River Road, Vacherie, Louisiana 1983/printed 1989)

The Land Through a Lens features 85 photographs from the early years of photography in the 1850's through the twentieth century. Included in this exhibition are influential early photographers Eadweard Muybridge, Timothy O'Sullivan and Carleton Watkins, as well as modern masters such as Ansel Adams and Aaron Siskind. Contemporary photographers such as William Christenberry, Emmet Gowin and Richard Misrach bring the collection into the present day. The Land Through a Lens traces America's fascination with the land and the way artists transform it into symbols and signature images.

"Americans have long had an intense and complex relationship with the land, which has inspired artists in every generation," said Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "Since 1988, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has placed a special emphasis on collecting landscape photographs that express an amazing variety of attitudes and ideas about this relationship." (right: Ansel Adams, Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, California, 1944/printed 1978, gelatin silver print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Jane and Arthur K. Mason. Use with permission of the Trustees of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. All rights reserved.)

Soon after photography was invented in 1839, photographers were outside documenting America's rural and regional views and geologic wonders. The earliest photograph in the exhibition is Alex Hesler's "Falls of Minnehaha, Minnesota" from about 1855. Hesler's views of these falls inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to write his epic poem, Hiawatha.

Most nineteenth-century photographers worked on commission from industry or the government. George Barnard, for example, recorded Civil War battle sites while William Bell worked on government-sponsored geological and exploration surveys.

Carl E. Watkins was one of the first photographers to go west, arriving in Yosemite in 1861. Watkin's views of Yosemite were so popular that they inspired the federal government to preserve the area as a national park.

William H. Jackson was the most prolific and long-lived photographer of the American West, working from the 1870's well into the 1900s. Jackson made "Grand Cañon of the Colorado" (about 1880), an image of the West's most famous gorge, after he opened a studio in Denver.

As the twentieth century dawned, preservation issues took center stage in public debates with the help of photography. Many artists, most notably Ansel Adams, featured breathtaking views of nature untouched by development, which influenced the movement to create a national park system. (right: Terry Toedtemeier, Burning Railroad Tie, Burlington Cut near Catherine Creek, Klickitat County, Washington 1987/printed 1988)

Modern and contemporary photographers have recorded both the forces of nature and the impact of human settlement and development. Lewis Baltz's documentation of suburban sprawl, Emmet Gowin's views of the aftermath of Mt. St. Helens's spectacular eruption and Stuart Klipper's images of open spaces exemplify some of these issues.

Besides the West, other regions of the United States are equally captivating to photographers. A major theme in William Christenberry's art is the tension between past and present that is felt in the modern South. In "Red Soil and Kudzu -- near Moundville, Alabama" (1980/printed1981), Christenberry, a native Alabaman, fills more than half the frame with kudzu vine, leaving the viewer wondering about what is underneath.

The Land Through a Lens: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of five exhibitions featuring the museum's collections that are touring the nation through 2005. The tour is supported in part by the Smithsonian Special Exhibitions Fund and sponsored locally by Jefferson Medical and Sanderson Farms.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the nation's museum dedicated exclusively to the art and artists of the United States. The museum's collections trace the country's story in art spanning three centuries, and its in-depth resources offer opportunities to understand that story better. While the museum renovates its historic building in Washington, D.C., it is sharing many of its finest treasures with museums and audiences nationwide.


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