American Tableaux explores the rich narrative tradition in American art through a presentation of more than 80 paintings, sculptures, installations, prints, and photographs from the Walker’s permanent collection, including works from the early 20th century to the present. The exhibition celebrates the variety of stories told by individual voices, communities, and cultures within our borders and examines the malleability of the term “American” and the myth of a single, coherent American society. A common thread runs between the parallel traditions of art and literature and the strategies employed by artists and writers to tell their stories. The short story, editorial, and diary are comparable literary vehicles of expression also open to artists in the construction of visual narratives.
The exhibition is organized into several groups of works, each a collection of short takes on an aspect of the American experience. George Segal’s melancholy environmental sculpture The Diner (1964-1966) and Edward Ruscha’s 23-foot-long accordion-fold photo book Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966) anchor a grouping that explores roadside and street-level realities. Kara Walker’s antebellum silhouette figures The Means to an End . . . A Shadow Drama in Five Acts (1995) and Robert Rauschenberg’s screenprints created from collages of newspaper clippings, Currents (1970), investigate some of the political and social issues that animate our daily experience. How we construct our homes–physically and metaphorically–is touched on by objects such as Louise Nevelson’s Case with Five Balusters (1959) and Dan Graham’s architectural study Alteration to a Suburban House (1978/1992). The urban, suburban, and rural environments are represented by paintings such as Joseph Stella’s stylized portrait of the Brooklyn Bridge in American Landscape (1929), Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lake George Barns (1926), and Mark Tansey’s Constructing the Grand Canyon (1990). Personal narratives involving the body, gender, and sexual identity and the passages associated with self-discovery are explored in Dorit Cypis’ My Father’s Nudes (1989), Collier Schorr’s The Well #1 (White) (1991), and Ron Vawter’s Roy Cohn/Jack Smith stage set and video. Finally, an installation of several diverse works suggests a mock “clubhouse”–a private, interior gathering space complete with the pinups of Richard Prince’s Girlfriends (1992) and a pool table courtesy of Sherrie Levine’s La Fortune (after Man Ray: 3) (1990).
New Each Month: Special Publication and Film
The exhibition’s many visual tableaux are accompanied by an eight-part publication that explores the American experience through the written word. Each issue is built around a theme–Lament, Muscle, Fortune, Burn, Beauty, Outskirts, Strip, Notorious–and features a Walker-commissioned short story by a prominent local writer as well as curatorial commentaries on works in the exhibition, film notes, and suggestions for further reading. Over the course of the exhibition, eight films selected from the Walker’s Edmond R. Ruben Collection will be shown, offering up still other American stories. Highlights include films by Kenneth Anger, Helen Levitt, Bruce Baillie, and George Kuchar.
Story by Diane Glancy
Film: James Benning’s One Way Boogie Woogie (1977)
Story by George Rabasa
Film: William Klein’s Muhammad Ali, the Greatest (1974)
Story by Norah Labiner
Film: Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925)
Story by Julie Schumacher
Film: Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963)
Story by Bart Schneider
Film: Helen Levitt’s In the Street (1952)
Story by Wang Ping
Film: Bruce Baillie’s Castro Street (1966)
Story by Patricia Hampl
Film: Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
Story by David Haynes
Film: George Kuchar’s Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966)