Friday, October 17, 2008

Picturing America

West University Branch Library and many other branches of Harris County Public Library are the recipients of a Picturing America grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities/We the People flagship initiative. What this means is we were given a large portfolio of 40 laminated art reproductions representative of both American Art history and the whole story of America as a country. Pictured above is "Cityscape 1" (1963) by California artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922 - 1993).

Diebenkorn is one of those artists whose work fits many categories. He used abstraction before abstraction was cool; when that tide turned he renounced abstraction and became more figurative. "Cityscape 1" is one of his semi-representational works, a bird's-eye view of San Francisco where it once met undeveloped land. Other painters whose work his brings to mind: Edward Hopper, Wayne Thiebaud, Henri Matisse. They say that Diebenkorn was an introspective man, modest and professorial. This quote from him helps interpret his work: "I came to mistrust my desire to explode the picture and supercharge it in some way... what is more important is a feeling of strength in reserve – tension beneath calm."

There was an interesting article about Diebenkorn in the Wall Street Journal recently. It questioned why Diebenkorn is not "more famous". I would like to have been in the room when members of the NEH or their consultants decided which works of art would be included in the Picturing America program. I'm glad they included Diebenkorn. But where, oh where is Georgia O'Keeffe, Joan Mitchell, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollack, to mention a few? Ah, well, with only forty slots open, it is understandable the choices were limited.

We have opened our Picturing America mini-museum with 2 works of art. Facing out on the library's front window is a poster featuring mostly native American pottery and baskets. Facing in we have a portrait of Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley. I have enjoyed using the Picturing America Teachers Resource Guide to create short curated blurbs to accompany the posters. We will change the posters out ever week or two, so the "museum" should be open for many months to come. The old art major in me is thrilled, and I hope the public gets something our of these displays. Some days there are customers lined up outside our windows waiting for the library to open. Now they have some art to look at while they are waiting.

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