Reconfiguring the Body in American Art, 1820–2009 — A Slideshow

Reconfiguring the Body in American Art at National Academy Museum (NA)
Reconfiguring the Body in American Art at National Academy Museum (NA)

Holding the fourth largest collection of American Art, the website of National Academy Museum before “successfully” hid its breadth and depth of its vast collection and shun away a lot of visitors who glimpse online before going.  There used to be one web page naming the members of the Academy. But the museum seemed shy to admit that a lot of the collection came from the diploma paintings, which are required for every newly elected member. The controversy about their deaccessioning works last year had brought a lot of attention to the nature of this special museum, whose collection came as a by-product of membership and whose artistic talented members are not keen to marketing or daily operating.

When I checked the National Academy Museum’s website this morning, I was happy to find out that finanlly there is collection search function available now. BUT: Not perfect. In fact far from perfect. First the paintings are listed by the titles, which do not make too much sense compared to the creators’ names. Secondly, the so-called “enlarge image” function merely magnifies a thumb-nail picture to a name card size. I can understand there are copyright issues around the 20th century artworks. But for those of the 19th century, I would appreciate one that can do justice to the painter.

Around noon time which seems to be the first hot day in this Summer at New York City, the line in front of Guggenheim was so long that almost reached the door of NA. But NA was a different scene: About thirty something people in total were in the galleries. Perhaps foreigners and out-of-towners are more likely to hear about the famous Guggenheim collection instead of diploma paintings of NA members, perhaps the Wright building looming out of the 5th ave is more aggressively inviting than the elegant yet reticent townhouse of NA, but perhaps their PR and marketing need more effort. For me, an exhibition of human figures from one of the leading American Art museums is a must-see, even though their website shows few of the more than 150 paintings nor there exists a catalogue. After years of abstract modernism and hybrid installation taking over New York art scenes, the most fundamental and enduring, yet the most challenging art form: human figures and portraits spanning almost two century are a recollection of humanity which pushes us to examine people as posed sitters, subject in actions or self reflection.

The rest is a slideshow which is intended to bring some of the pictures to those who are curious about this exceptional show, something that is not available through books or official website. No picture can do justice to real artworks, and I would hope those Guggenheim goers may find the neighboring smaller yet older museum has much if not more to say, with the t benefit of being surround by artwork, not visitors.

A review blog will come soon. Stay tuned.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 – 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that “his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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Correction to this blog:

National Academy’s eMuseum system was launched last month and is still in fine-tuning stage. They are aware of some problems and imperfection.

The collection (over 7000 objects) has a lot of diploma works, in particular because the portrait is required when an artist is elected as an associate member, the museum has one of the largest and finest collection of the artists self-portraits, as shown in the current exhibition including the portraits of Wyeth, Eakins, Benton, etc.

The collection is further enhanced by donation. The reduction sculpture by Paul Manship in the exhibition was a recent addition from a generous donation. Several beautiful watercolors by William Trost Richards in the previous show were donated by the family. Some paintings in the collection were actually donated by the non-member painters.

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