Saturday, June 05, 2010

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art Announces Two New Contemporary Works

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has acquired two distinctive contemporary works. Enassamishhinjiijweian (2009), a tour-de-force landscape by Tom Uttech, builds on the collection's strength in American landscapes, supplementing Asher B. Durand's Kindred Spirits, Thomas Moran's Autumn Landscape and Marsden Hartley's Hall of the Mountain King, among other works. The second announced painting is Wayne Thiebaud's Supine Woman (1963), a psychologically ambiguous portrait of a tense, prone woman. This work joins the museum's growing body of works representing memorable female figures, ranging from the confident gaze of Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, Jr. in an early portrait by John Singleton Copley to the jaunty brio of Norman Rockwell's Rosie the Riveter.

Tom Uttech is widely admired for his mystical evocations of the northern woods in the United States and Canada. In this imposing, 8 1/2' x 9' oil on linen landscape, carefully delineated waterfowl, raptors, foxes and flying squirrels fill every inch of the canvas, the abundance of wildlife tamed by a strict geometric grid anchored by the horizon line and a lone black bear.

"These paintings are all recollections of the magic I have found in the North Woods," Tom Uttech wrote. "They never depict any actual place. They hope to recreate the feelings those places generate in ourselves ... I do also mean to be saying something about the richness and diversity of life on this planet and how magically wonderful this all is by packing so many individuals and species into the same place at the same time."

"I love the balance Uttech strikes between a natural view of the scene and a completely stylized, imaginary, magical evocation of landscape," says Don Bacigalupi, the museum's director. "He is also keenly conscious of art history, drawing on a wide range of compositional techniques, from the horror vacui used by medieval painters such as Hieronymus Bosch, who filled the entire surface of the picture plane with detail, to the very classical order and perspectival composition employed by Renaissance artists such as Masaccio and Uccello."

Uttech crafted the work's title from the language of the Ojibwe, a Native American tribe based in the United State and Canada; Enassamishhinjiijweian can loosely be translated as "hoping for good things to come." The frame was hand-made and stained by the artist to enhance the work.

Tom Uttech was born in Merrill, Wisconsin in 1942. After earning a degree at the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee Uttech went to graduate school at the University of Cincinnati. He taught at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock for one year before returning home to teach at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee from 1968 until his retirement in 1998. Uttech's paintings have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States, and his work has been widely published, most comprehensively in an exhibition catalog by Margaret Andera, Magnetic North: The Landscapes of Tom Uttech (Milwaukee Art Museum, 2004). His work is included in the collections of the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ga., the New Orleans Museum of Art in New Orleans, La. and the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla., among others. He was recently awarded the 2010 Academy Award in Art by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Best-known for his still lifes of cakes, pies and icons of everyday Americana, Wayne Thiebaud has also translated his exaggerated color and impasto paint application to other subjects. Supine Woman is part of a series of isolated, large-scale human figures that the artist began in the early 60s.

"This work is not a stereotypical Thiebaud but the richness of color, the deep shadows and the sensuous paint handling are very characteristic of his work," said Chris Crosman, chief curator. "The woman's plank-like rigidity and the attention to detail, from her reddened heels to the subtle yellow v-neck of her dress, are typical of his figure paintings."

The artist provides no context for the woman, who is presented splayed on her back in an anonymous white space, her eyes wide open and fists clenched. Her tense self-possession raises questions about the artist's intent.

"How many reclining figures do you see in the history of art like this? She's not objectified or seductive; you're really confronted by her," Don Bacigalupi said. "The courtesan in Manet's Olympia who directly engages the viewer and the prone figure in Manet's Dead Toreador and the Bullfight provide an interesting comparison for this work."

Born in Mesa, Arizona in 1920, Wayne Thiebaud has spent most of his life in California. He apprenticed as an animator with Walt Disney Studios while still in high school and drew a regular comic strip while serving in the Army Air Force during World War II. He worked as a poster designer and commercial artist before pursuing formal art training at San Jose State College and California State College in Sacramento. He taught at the University of California, Davis from 1960 until his retirement in 1990.

Thiebaud's work won national attention in 1962 after being included in landmark exhibitions at the Pasadena Art Museum and the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York City that launched the Pop Art movement. In addition to his signature still lifes of pastries and consumer goods, and figural studies such as Supine Woman, Thiebaud has explored California's rural landscapes and cityscapes in depth. His paintings may be found in museums across the country, among them the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. His work has been featured in numerous touring exhibitions, including the retrospective Wayne Thiebaud: Seventy Years of Painting, organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum and currently on display at the San Jose Museum of Art through July 4.

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