Thursday, May 8, 2014

Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In

Where: National Gallery of Art

When: through November 30, 2014

Andrew Wyeth is the unusual artist who has something for everyone: those who look to art for realistic, unvarnished pictures of the world in which we live and those who value abstraction, the elevation of form and line.  This show, which concentrates on his paintings of windows, highlights his realist and abstract credentials.

It's not an enormous show, four rooms, (none of which, ironically, have any actual windows) full of windows, views from windows, light from windows, windows with curtains, windows without curtains, windows with and without frames.  The paintings are, for the most part, quite spare, even sparse.  They favor line and geometric shapes, and none of them contain people.

They are realistic - one has no doubt that if one looked through the dormer window at the Olson house in Maine, one would see the view depicted above.  These are not, however, bucolic works, that evoke fond feelings about the simplicity of rural life.  They are, for the most part, the windows of people without much wherewithal; I confess, after looking at a room full of paintings of the Olson farmhouse, I wanted to buy them some new curtains.

In 2009, the National Gallery of Art was given the painting pictured above, "Wind From the Sea."  This prompted them to mount this exhibition, the first to focus on Wyeth's window paintings.  My favorite was another well-regarded piece, "Off to Sea."  It was described as his most mathematical work, and there is a precision about it that makes you imagine him painting it with a ruler and compass in hand.  It's an empty room (all the rooms are empty) with a bench underneath a window.  There's an empty hangar hanging on the wall, representing someone who has left the house, perhaps (since "off to sea" was a way of expressing that someone was lost at sea) not to return.

Verdict: This is a very interesting show.  The paintings are deceptively simple - there's not much in them, but they hold your attention for a long time.

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