Austin Museum of Art

Austin, TX

512.495.9224 Downtown - 512.458-8191 Laguna Gloria


Oil Patch Dreams: Images of the Petroleum Industry in American Art

June 26 - August 22,1999


Oil Patch Dreams: Images of the Petroleum Industry in American Art, a wide-ranging exhibition of historic and contemporary twentieth-century art, traces the central role that oil has played in modern American history and culture. The exhibition begins with works from early in this century, when oil became a symbol of American prosperity and progress. Visual artists have long been important recorders and interpreters of oil's influence in the United States, and particularly in Texas, where the state's identity has been closely tied to the idea of the "oil patch dream," the aspiration of attaining wealth and power through a combination of speculation, intuition, and hard work. Artists from the state have also reflected more contemporary perspectives on the impact of oil, through works that suggest more complex assessments of oil's recent role in the environment and world economy. In approximately 60 paintings, sculpture, and drawings, artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Umlauf, Susan Crile, Andy Warhol, and Bob Wade examine the dramatic contrasts and shifting boundaries between the myth and realities of oil throughout this century.

Early in this century, artists were attracted by the new technology, one that contributed to the growing concept of Modernism and its belief in unbridled progress. They romanticized the oil boom of the 1920s and were fascinated by the machinery of oil exploration. In the 1930s, WPA muralists portrayed the oil industry as a bastion of security and prosperity in the midst of widespread economic and social uncertainty.

As the century progressed and the United States became increasingly dependent on foreign oil, artists' views of the oil industry became more ambivalent. Some artists, like Charles Umlauf and Bob Wade, created a mythologized, nostalgic version of the oil industry. Susan Crile's 1991 series of monumental paintings depicting the oil fires of Kuwait in the Gulf War, dramatize the political and ecological implications of society's dependence on oil. Contemporary artists continue to explore the nature of the oil patch dream, which, even at the end of this century, remains an intrinsic part of the American dream.

Oil Patch Dreams: Images of the Petroleum Industry in American Art will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue as well as by educational programs for adults and young people.

Oil Patch Dreams: Images of the Petroleum Industry in American Art, the most comprehensive gathering of art related to the oil industry to date, was organized by the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont, Texas with the generous support of Houston Endowment Inc.; FINA Foundation and FINA; Chase Bank of Texas; Mamie McFaddin-Ward Heritage Foundation; Summerlee Foundation; Able-Hanger Foundation; South Hampton Refining Co.; Boots & Coots Group; Texas Commission on the Arts; Texacota Oil Company; Nona and Richard Barrett; Torch Collection of Torch Energy Advisors, Inc.; Bessie and Stewart Chisum; and Southwest Texas State University. It is co-curated by Jeffrey J. York, the Museum's Executive Director, and by Francine Carraro, Professor of Art History at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.

The Austin presentation of Oil Patch Dreams is made possible by Ford, Fritz, Byrne & Head, L.L.P., The Inland Group L.L.C., Roliff Purrington, Mayor, Day, Caldwell, & Keeton, L.L.P., and John M. Scanlan.

Images from top to bottom:Alexandre Hogue, Pecos Escarpment, 1937, egg tempera on panel, 28 x 30 inches; Andy Warhol, Mobilgas, 1985, screenprint and colophon, 38 x 38 inches; Bo Bartlett, Oil Painting, 1996, oil on linen, 84 x 72 inches; Aaron Arion, Spindletop Viewing Her Gusher, 1903, pastel on linen, 25 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches.

Read more in Resource Library about Austin Museum of Art.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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