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South Korea Hosts American Art

Lita Solis-Cohen | June 17th, 2013

The Cadwalader furniture and Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of John Cadwalader, his wife, Betsy Lloyd and daughter, Anne, in its newly restored frame, are on view at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea. Photo courtesy the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of John Cadwalader, his wife, Betsy, and their infant daughter, Anne, shows Anne seated on the edge of the celebrated Cadwalader card table. That painting, along with one of the pair of the Cadwalader card tables, two side chairs, and a fire screen from the Cadwaladers’ Second Street house is on display at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea through May 19. They will travel to the Daejeon Museum of Art near the center of South Korea and be on exhibit from June 17 through September 1 as part of Art Across America, a selection of American paintings and decorative arts, 168 treasures in all, designed to introduce Korean audiences to the history of American art and cultural history.

Four American institutions—the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFA, Houston), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), and the Terra Foundation for American Art (TFAA)—have collaborated on the project.

The bilingual catalog, with an overview introduction to American art history written by Dr. Angela Miller of Washington University in St. Louis, is the first book in Korean to discuss the whole story of American art. It was published in Korea and has the potential to serve as an American art textbook there.

“Many Koreans are aware of American artists such as Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, and familiar with post-1960’s American art, but not with the work of artists of earlier periods such as John Singleton Copley, Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins,” explained the National Museum of Korea’s Seung-ik Kim, a lead curator for the exhibition and a specialist in Korean modern art and visual culture, in a press release.

The exhibition is divided into six sections: American People, American Landscapes—East to West, Daily Life, Cosmopolitan America, Modern America, and American Art after 1945. It is a survey course, American art history 101, designed to give Korean students and the general public an extraordinary learning opportunity. (This exhibition might give students in many parts of America an illuminating experience, but that is not in the works. There are plans to send the exhibition to Australia.) By pairing decorative arts and design with paintings, the domestic traditions and creative achievements of artists and artisans are celebrated. Diversity is emphasized.

The MFA, Houston has lent, among other things, an Aesthetic Movement side chair and ottoman by Herter Brothers, an 1855 parlor set by John Henry Belter, and a 1905 Lotus table by John Scott Bradstreet as well as Tiffany & Company 1878 Butterfly napkin clips and paintings ranging from Edward Hicks’s Penn’s Treaty with the Indians to Hans Hofmann’s Blue Monolith.

The LACMA has sent landscapes that portray the countryside from the Catskills to the Rockies and Californian design since 1945 to show connections between American art and national identity during our nation’s development.

The PMA has lent a Pennsylvania German painted chest decorated with a pair of unicorns, a fraktur birth certificate with unicorns, a redware plate with slip-trailed stars and tulips, a quilt with stars, an 1880-1910 eagle quilt, and a large carved and painted eagle of the same period by Wilhelm Schimmel. Hicks’s Treaty (MFAH) and Peaceable Kingdom with Quakers Bearing Banners from the TFAA are hung nearby.

The exhibit includes Native American pottery, blankets, jewelry, and paintings of Native Americans by Frederic Remington, George de Forest Brush, Eanger Irving Couse, and Walter Ufer. Thomas Hart Benton’s Slaves, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s portrait of his mother, and Jacob Lawrence’s The Brown Angel are included. There are portraits from every era by artists such as John Singleton Copley, Robert Feke, Rembrandt Peale (a George Washington porthole portrait), Thomas Eakins, Robert Henri, Frank Duveneck, William Merritt Chase, Cecilia Beaux, and Daniel Garber.

The section called Cosmopolitan America narrates a time of cultural exchange and global awareness with paintings by Eakins, Whistler, and Mary Cassatt at the turn into the 20th century. Modernist art of the first half of the 20th century is well represented by Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Stuart Davis, and from the second half of the 20th century are works by Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, Arshile Gorky, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol among others. The lenders did not hold back; they sent some of their best but no photography, prints, or sculpture.

According to Peter John Brownlee, associate curator at the TFAA, the exhibition has been installed near historical collections of Korean art and artifacts, offering visitors an opportunity to consider the art and culture of Korea and the United States in reaction to one another. “Theirs is a remarkable collection of art and artifacts of all periods of Korean art,” he said. “Programs accompanying the exhibition by Korean and American scholars investigate such topics as the role of the American novel, realism in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and Abstract Expressionism. It all fits the Terra mission to foster scholarly dialogue about American art.”

 In return, in 2014 the Koreans are sending a major exhibition of Korean art from the collection of the National Museum of Korea, which will open in Philadelphia before traveling to Los Angeles and Houston.

Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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