Road Trip: Three U.S. Exhibitions to See This Summer

By Margie Fuchs

The longer days and warmer temperatures can only mean one thing – summer is in full swing! The season provides the perfect excuse to adventure outside of our normal routines and see the latest and greatest United States art institutions have to offer. With buzzworthy shows cropping up across the country this summer, there’s plenty to choose from. Below are three exhibitions worth checking out before Labor Day:

1. “Nature’s Nation” at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Aaron Douglas, American, 1899–1979. Song of the Towers, 1966. Oil and tempera on canvas. 76.2 × 63.5 cm (30 × 25 in.). Milwaukee Art Museum.
Aaron Douglas, American, 1899–1979. Song of the Towers, 1966. Oil and tempera on canvas. 76.2 × 63.5 cm (30 × 25 in.). Milwaukee Art Museum.

Summer is prime time to reconnect with nature. Head to Bentonville, Arkansas, to see how American artists have explored, captured and impacted the natural world with a special exhibition at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Open through September 9th, Nature’s Nation: American Art and Environment features over 100 artworks that showcase evolving ideas of the environment and man’s place in it. The exhibition weaves through more than three centuries of art and includes works by Frederic Edwin Church, as well as Andrew Wyeth’s regionalist scenes. Modern artists, including Ralston Crawford and Georgia O’Keeffe, distill the scenery into primary colors, shapes and forms, while contemporary artists confront issues of climate change and degradation. Nature’s Nation presents works by an impressive list of institutions, such as The Vilcek Foundation, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and is organized by the Princeton University Art Museum. The exhibition previously traveled to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, and Crystal Bridges will be its final stop – don’t miss it.

2. “Spilling Over” at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Helen Frankenthaler, American, 1928-2011. Orange Mood, 1966. 84 × 79 1/2 in. (213.4 × 201.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art.
Helen Frankenthaler, American, 1928-2011. Orange Mood, 1966. 84 × 79 1/2 in. (213.4 × 201.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art.

“I paint many paintings that tell me slowly that I have something inside of me that is just bursting, twisting, sticking, spilling over to get out. Out into souls and mouths and eyes that have never seen before.” The quote, by artist Bob Thompson, inspired Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, an exhibition on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City through August 31st. Unlike Crystal Bridges’ show, Spilling Over is drawn entirely from the museum’s collection. Organized by David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection, with Margaret Kross, curatorial assistant, it brings together mid-century paintings that play with color, in both pigmentation and application, to elevate viewers’ perceptions and encourage new modes of understanding the time-honored art form. At the core of this color renaissance is acrylic paint, whose invention and distribution in the 1960s ushered in an era defined by brighter, bolder hues. Spilling Over looks at the disparate ways that Color Field painters like Sam Gilliam, Op Art artists and abstract expressionists like Helen Frankenthaler employed the new material to personal, political and purely aesthetic ends.

While you’re at the Whitney Museum, make sure to visit the museum’s collection, which was recently reinstalled, offering new interpretations. Featuring more than 120 works, it speaks to the founding history of the Whitney: established in 1930 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, the collection presents how artists uniquely reveal the complexity and beauty of American life. Among our highlights: “Fantasia on a Theme by Dr. S” (1946) by Paul Cadmus and “The Labyrinth” (1951) by Robert Vickrey. 

3. “American Modernism” at the Seattle Art Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, American, 1887-1986. Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918. Oil on canvas. 35 x 29 in. Seattle Art Museum. Partial and promised gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2000.161, © Barney Ebsworth Estate.
Georgia O’Keeffe, American, 1887-1986. Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918. Oil on canvas. 35 x 29 in. Seattle Art Museum. Partial and promised gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2000.161, © Barney Ebsworth Estate.

If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, take a trip back in time with the Seattle Art Museum’s survey installation American Modernism, on view until February 2020. The exhibition transports viewers to photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery in the first decade of the 20th century, where he showcased a distinctly American alternative to the modern art dominating headlines across the Atlantic. At the center of his roster was a quartet of young artists – Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove and John Marin – who shared a radical approach to color and representation. O’Keeffe’s “Music – Pink and Blue No. 1” (1918), pictured above, and Hartley’s “Painting No. 49, Berlin” (1914-1915) anchor the show and provide a window into the dawning of the modernist movement in the United States. Both works were gifted to the institution by Barney A. Ebsworth, who was a trustee of the museum and passed away in April 2018, and whose collection, which also included works by Charles Sheeler and Stuart Davis, sold at Christie’s last Fall.

Cover image: Georgia O’Keeffe, American, 1887-1986. Pink and Blue No. 1 (detail), 1918. Oil on canvas. 35 x 29 in. Seattle Art Museum. Partial and promised gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2000.161, © Barney Ebsworth Estate.