WAAM presents Bellows in Beauty of Discord
According to Woodstock Artist Association & Museum Executive Director Josephine Bloodgood, the 14 George Bellows lithographs she and fellow curator William Tanksley wanted as centerpieces for The Beauty of Discord: Selections from the Permanent Collection exhibit opening with a 4 p.m.-6 p.m. reception at WAAM’s Towbin Wing Saturday, March 6, needed editing for reasons germane to the 91-year old institution’s rise as a museum facility in recent years.
The whole body of work in the WAAM collection, known as Bellows’ War Series from 1918, wasn’t quite big enough to fill the vaulted-ceiling brightly lit space dedicated to showing off the treasures of the WAAM Permanent Collection. Furthermore, another set of the famed lithographs had already been shown in the region in recent years, at SUNY New Paltz’s Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art. And three of the WAAM-owned works had surfaced last year in a Towbin Wing exhibition of recent acquisitions, honoring the 2007 gift from collectors Bill and Andrea Broyles.
“We’ve looked at this as an opportunity to show a lot of works that are difficult, or don’t fit into themes very easily,” Bloodgood said of what’s resulting from the need to fit the show into a larger museum world of top shelf exhibitions. “It will be a show that’s not so comfortable to look at, but memorable on other levels.”
“Several of the works deal with the human condition, sending us on a journey of inward examination as we wonder what our place in this world is and where we are going,” writes Tanksley, a former Woodstock resident now attending Fordham University and working as an intern at WAAM, in his catalogue introduction to the exhibit he co-curated.
Other works in the exhibition include paintings and works on paper by John McClellan, Karl Fortess, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Lucile Blanch, Pele deLappe and others, all aimed, according to Bloodgood and Tanksley’s press materials for the show, at pushing the boundaries of viewers’ comfort zones and portraying such themes as war, injustice, depravity, hopelessness, rage, and angst.
As well as bringing to life some of Bellows’ own thoughts about what drove his art, as well as the art he loved in his relatively short life.
“Every artist is looking for news. He is a great reporter of life; keeping his eyes open for some hitherto untold piece of reality to put on his canvas,” Bellows wrote at one point in his career, cut short by a ruptured appendix at the age of 42. “A picture is primarily a human document, a record of the mind and heart of the man who made it, of his limitations and his greatness.”
Bellows War Series entitled War (The Tragedies of the War in Belgium), completed in 1918 and including five oil paintings based on sections of the original lithographs, has gained fame over the years as a uniquely American achievement on a par with Goya’s Disasters of War etchings, Manet’s Execution of Maximilian, and Picasso’s later Guernica.
Bellows, originally from Ohio and trained at the Arts Students League in New York, rose to fame quickly and was granted membership in the National Academy of Design by the age of 23, and inclusion in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by 30. Although known for both his technical prowess and gritty realism, Bellows was much beloved during his day for both the social activism of many of his earlier paintings’ subject matters, as well as his maintenance of an illustration career while also selling paintings.
The War lithographs were done after he created anti-war drawings for The Nation and other publications, but changed his mind about American intervention into World War I after reading a report about atrocities committed by the German army in The New York Times in 1915. That information, it turns out, gestated within the artist for two years before bursting forth in the graphic expressionist realism of the 1918 works, several of which ended up being published in Vanity Fair and other leading magazines of the day.
In retrospect, it seems the act of creating these works, and their subsequent success, forced a shift in the artist’s temperament, and career. By 1919, he was teaching again in Chicago. The following year, he started spending more and more time in Woodstock, where he built a home and started collaborating on more fine-lined lithographs with the Byrdcliffe Colony co-founder Bolton Brown.
His own art, created here and in retreats in Maine and other rural spots, became more introspective, pastoral, and quietly allegoric. He painted portraits, landscapes, and relished a less socially-radicalized crowd to converse with.
“You do not know what you are able to do until you try. Try it in every possible way,” he wrote while in the midst of this post War Series shift, in 1921. “Be deliberate, and spontaneous. Be thoughtful, and painstaking. Be abandoned, and impulsive. Learn your own possibilities.”
It would be interesting to conjure the man’s reaction to having these works centering such a show 91 years after WAAM started up, five years before Bellows’ death. Was this something he had wanted to move beyond, or that somehow defined the new man he became, deep within? And would he have appreciated the works by fellow and later Woodstockers these seven works are now showing with, so different from what everyone seemed to have come north to this pastoral town to create?
“Much of what will be seen in this show has not been shown for years,” Bloodgood said this week, while she and Tanksley’s Beauty of Discord exhibit was being hung.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with some very talented and highly intelligent interns in recent years from SUNY Purchase, Bard, and Fordham,” the director added of her co-curator and intern, Tanksley — whose other projects at WAAM have included helping with installations, cataloging works of art, assisting with photography, conducting research, and creating a brochure to engage children and families during gallery visits. “Our Education Program also relies on interns for their programs and we welcome interested students in all areas of the organization.”
The Beauty of Discord opens this Saturday, March 6, alongside a group show of new works juried by Beacon gallerist Carl Van Brunt, a solo exhibition of new works by Susan Togut, a youth show of student work from Saugerties High School, and several members’ shows downstairs.++
For details about these shows and events, go to www.woodstockart.org or call 679-2940. The Woodstock Artists Association & Museum is located at 28 Tinker Street and is open on Friday and Saturday from 12 – 6 pm and Sunday, Monday, Thursday 12 – 5 pm.