Butler Institute of American Art

The Butler Institute of Art is of a calibur equal to some of the larger, newer cities outside the Northeast. All of this great art just outside the campus of Youngstown State University is a great example of art being where the money (and population) used to be. The people and city of Youngstown appear to take great pride in their museum and I expect will continue to secure the museum and its great artworks as a catalist for urban rebirth.

I opened the most recent issue of Art and Antiques magazine and on the last page was a work and short article about Charles Sheeler. I recognized it from the Butler’s web site and looked forward to seeing it in person on my upcoming visit. Sheeler has been one of my most admired artists and this Ohio steel town is a great place to hold one of his works. It was a few months ago that I bought a stack of New York art magazines from the 1920s and 30s and noticed that Sheeler contributed quite a few photographs.

There are other works that relate directly to Youngstown including a work by William Gropper about a strike in Youngstown that is reminiscent of Picasso’s Guernica. There are also some paper mache steel workers and a short video from Good Morning America in 1980 about their making. To look at the video and their life-sized images made me think not only about their life and what it must have been like, but the passing of time, both in terms of these men and the artist, but of Youngstown. I suppose its hard to imagine even now, but some day what was once almost the whole of a culture–the making of steel–will be a footnote in history. If time can do that to something as mighty as the steel industry, what can it do to this art, its subject, video, Good Morning America and myself, the viewer?

Perhaps not much of Youngstown is recorded in paint before the mills came, but the collection of landscapes is what I primarily came for. I continue to be captivated by the work of George Innes, and the Butler holds a fine example of his work. I can usually spot an Edwin Church painting from across the room and there’s also a fine example of Eakins work, a prtrait of sculptor Beatrice Fenton, whose work can be seen in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square.

On the upper level there’s currently an exhibit called the Secret Life of Frames that includes examples of frames designed by Stanford White. It also curiously notes that Thomas Cole thought that a frame was “the soul of a painting.”

After seeing all the great art, its disturbing to get a limpse of what was lost. There’s a photo of paintings lining the walls of a turn-of-the century (20th) mansion. Its noted that when all these great European works went up in smoke, Joseph Butler decided he better build a proper building for displaying artwork, and the current building (designed by McKim Meade and Stanford White) and museum was born.

Some photos from my visit

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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