Saturday, July 8, 2017

The American Landscape Isn't All Out West

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through July 16, 2017

When I think of great American landscapes, my mind inevitably turns to the West: Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains.  What I forget is that the Eastern part of the U.S. has great landscapes too.  Having spent a lifetime in the Mid-Atlantic, there's no excuse for my overlooking the natural beauty so near by!  Happily, this show has opened my eyes, and I hope will open those of others before it closes in another week.

This collection of 19th century photographs starts with early daguerreotypes, some of which are so sensitive to light that they are covered with little curtains.  I found it hard to see the images but didn't want to stare too long for fear of making matters worse, so gave these only a quick glance.

The next room featured stereographs - which reminded me strongly of my old "Viewmaster Viewer."  Two identical images set side-by-side create a 3-D image, if you look at them with a special viewer.  Great fun, largely due to the trip down memory lane.

There were also several examples of photographs and paintings of the same view, exhibited together - a great idea I thought, showing how artists in different media see the same thing.

The Civil War got a bit of space as well, not surprising, since it was the first war to be photographed.  Just as Vietnam brought the war to America's living rooms by way of television, people were far more aware of what was happening in this conflict due to photography.

I noticed among the offerings, several from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  It made my wonder how often the two institutions share things for special exhibits - are they more colleagues than competitors?

Verdict: A fine show, one worth seeing.

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