FROM OUR FILES: Andrew Wyeth - show probes the man and his art
Andrew Wyeth, who died today, was one of the best-known American artists of the 20th century. His intuition and allusive paintings were the focus of this 1976 exhibit review.
From the December 9, 1976 issue of The Christian Science MonitorSkip to next paragraph
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Andrew Wyeth is probably the best-known 20th-century painter in the United States, with the possible exception of Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses. Whether it is familiarity or realism that has bred contempt in critical circles is difficult to judge, but paintings by the immortalizer of the lonely landscape and its intrepid inhabitants in Cushing, Maine, and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, have been variously vilified as "sickenly popular, purposefully reactionary, and coldly trite," recounts Thomas P.F. Hoving, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Protesting that Wyeth has been the victim of too much packaging and labeling, Mr. Hoving pledges himself in his foreword to the catalog of the current Wyeth exhibition "to examine Wyeth very closely, without preconceptions or labels: to oberseve, to reveal, perhaps to complicate rather than simplify his work."
A SCHOLARLY LEAP
Mr. Hoving organized the exhibition and has brought an art-historical approach to bear upon Wyeth. Rumor has it that Mr. Hoving could not find anyone else at the Met willing or able to handle the exhibition, so he leaped into the breach with surprising alacrity and scholarly zeal.
The Met rarely mounts shows of contemporary artists, and Wyeth directors have insinuated that Mr. Hoving chose Wyeth to score a hit at the box office and to woo Wyeth's most devoted collector, Joseph Levine, who agreed to finance this exhibition of some 300 works and has all but promised his collection to the Met. Certainly the sale of two limited-edition portfolios is evidence of some commercial interest, but these days it is hardly fair to chastise a museum for wanting to make some money, or for occasionally mounting a show that appeals to the general public.
Whatever Mr. Hoving's motives, he has succeeded in putting together an unusual and engrossing show, which wil continue through February 6. The title of the exhibition is "Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons," and it includes several of the most famous paintings of the two families and two environments with which Wyeth conducted such a long painterly romance.
THE CELEBRATED CHRISTINA
Practically everyone is familiar with Wyeth's portraits of Christina Olson and her brother, Alvaro, on their farm in Maine, the most celebrated being "Christina's World," and of Karl and Andrew Kuerner, farmers of German descent tilling the dark earth of Pennsylvania. Wyeth's landscapes are instantly recognizable: the monochromatic hills and fields in tones of brown, the snow scenes of endless white on white, the details so fine one can pick out individual blades of grass.
There are two major differences between this exhibition and previous Wyeth shows. In addition to the paintings, the exhibition consists of numerous studies. Pencil sketches and washes abound, tracing the development of each painting. Most illuminating are the 16 studies for "Brown Swiss" which began as a sketch of a Brown Swiss and ended as a cattleless "double portrait" of the Kuerners' house and everything going on inside the house, reflected in a pond and landscape "almost like the tawny brown pelt of a Brown Swiss bull," in Wyeth's own words.