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Exhibition expedition

A road trip to sample great art is worth the gas money
By GREG COOK  |  June 14, 2006

You’re a New Englander, you’re suspicious of heat and clear skies; as far as you can remember, tans come from bottles. Admit it, you’re more comfortable staying indoors. You just need an acceptable excuse. How about . . . art. Yes, that’s it, art! Here are 10 exhibits across New England that will keep you happily inside all summer. They feature Georgia O’Keeffe, faux-war photography, Anselm Kiefer, cryptozoology, master 19th-century American-landscape painting, and Surrealism, so they’re colorful and compelling enough to sucker some outdoor types into joining you.

“Painting Summer in New England,” Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, through September 4
A family straps a rowboat on top of their car and drives to the lake shore in Norman Rockwell’s August 1947 Saturday Evening Post cover, Going and Coming.
The kids and their dog hang out the windows, smirking and laughing, blowing bubblegum bubbles, all jazzed-up for adventure. In the next scene, they motor home in the evening, slumped over and exhausted. Only the gray-haired granny in the back seat retains her stoic pose from the morning.

Here in New England, Rockwell, a native New Yorker, said he found a calm place in which to paint and “exactly the models needed for my purpose — the sincere, honest, homespun types that I love to paint.” His purpose was to charm us with visions of the goodhearted America we imagine ourselves to be, but as “Painting Summer in New England” demonstrates, the region has satisfied a multitude of aesthetic needs.

The show’s lineup — Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent, Andrew Wyeth, George Grosz, Tom Wesselmann, Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley, Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth, Neil Welliver, Alex Katz, Rockwell, and more — is reason enough to stop in. These 100 paintings by American masters from the past 150 years depict sunny vacations, the great outdoors, and lounging by the sea.

It’s easy on the eyes. But former–Boston Museum of Fine Arts curator Trevor Fairbrother has also assembled a smart show that reminds us how important the New England landscape (as painted by summer visitors) was to the development of 20th-century American art.

FROZEN IN HER FASCINATION: Georgia O’Keeffe’s From the Lake No.1 (1924) at Vermont’s Shelburne Museum.
“Simple Beauty: Paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe,” Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT, June 24 through October 31
Georgia O’Keeffe was so attracted to the powerful tastes and textures of the world that they sometimes froze her in fascination. She once said, “The first alligator pear I became acquainted with, I didn’t eat. I kept it so long that it turned a sort of light brown and was so hard that I could shake it and hear the seed rattle. I kept it for years — a dry thing, a wonderful shape.”

In these 25 paintings, O’Keeffe strips down sunburned New Mexico mountains, smoke-churning New York factories, emerald-alligator pears, and voluptuous folds of petunias and hibiscuses to jolt you with the voltage of their essential shapes and sultry colors — just as she was jolted. Her work is so familiar and beguiling that it’s easy to overlook how skillful and insistently sexy it is.

Also check out the Shelburne’s temporary exhibits: sleek furniture by Frank Gehry, Isamu Noguchi and Eero Saarinen; 19th-century New England weathervanes; and 19th- and 20th-century kaleidoscope quilts.

“An-My L: Small Wars,” RISD Museum, Providence, RI, June 30 through October 15
An-My L arrived in the US as a 15-year-old refugee from her native Saigon in 1975. She delved into her past, and documented Vietnam War re-enactors prowling the woods of South Carolina from 1999 to 2002. More recently, she went to 29 Palms Marine base to photograph jarheads rehearsing house searches, and tanks and Humvees creeping across a Southern California sandbox in preparation for the real thing in Afghanistan and Iraq. In an era when imagined weapons of mass destruction embroiled us in a very real war, these 50 images investigate the blurry line between truth and fiction by asking: what are we really playing with all our war games?

“Anselm Kiefer: Velimir Chlebnikov,” Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT, May 27 through October 1
German painter Anselm Kiefer gained fame in the US in the 1980s by exploring the murky crossroads of German history and myth with his tar, straw, and lead paintings of scorched battlefields, gray seashores, and haunted barns. Kiefer is inspired by Velimir Chlebnikov (1885–1922), a kook and founding poet of Russian futurism, who aimed to eradicate Western influences from the Russian language, and who believed historic battles occurred in 317-year cycles. In this collection of 30 recent and ravishing paintings, rusty subs and minesweepers ply fierce, gray seas. An Aldrich patron bought the whole kit and caboodle (including the corrugated-steel mausoleum it’s housed in) after this show exhibited in London last year. See it now because after this show, the museum warns, “it will disappear from the public view and move into a private collection.”

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Related: Bodies and souls, Portrait of the artist, Squares in Paris, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , - L Small, Allison Smith, Anselm Kiefer,  More more >
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