Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting America:Painting a nation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It’s 200 years of American art history compiled from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts,Houston,the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation for American Art. For American art novices such as myself it was a revelation. The narrative conveys a message of “America” the works evoke the boldness and industry stereotypical of the American psyche. There are also moments of the less conspicuous self reflection that the American archetype provokes.Less crowded and therefore more physically accessible than its predecessor Sydney Moderns, the audience has time to wind around the exhibition without the fear of information overload. A blend of white and deep grey blue painted walls evokes the sense of grand civil war mansion evolving into a penthouse apartment. So to is the feeling of the art. Whereas other countries spread their art market across society, the American art selection here seems to have one consistent theme “the rich”. This is art created by all walks of life, from all walks of life but it’s destination is predictable.One would question it’s appearance in a gallery space if not for kindly benefactors. The works are beautiful enough, but some how I feel like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel belongs more to me as an audience member. Another point, in an exhibition full of works that are big in nature,theme or scope we are treated to two of the smallest works ever made by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. These artists are neat summaries of the “bigness” of America and American art. The “detail” of Pollock’s No 22 in the pamphlet advertising the exhibition is not shy off the actual size of the work itself. I would have gladly traded the insurance and freight of both the Rothko and Pollock examples if the National gallery could have lent Pollock’s Blue Poles for a weekend or two. Now that would have been the jaw dropping conclusion for this otherwise fine display.
Painting a nation does what it says