GRANT WOOD: AMERICAN GOTHIC AND OTHER FABLES – APRIL 26th at 12:15pm : This post is about a private guided tour to see this exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art featuring one of our country’s most iconic images and filling us all in on its less well-known creator. Tickets will be $50. each for MWC’ers who are not members of the Whitney and $30. for those who are. Capacity is limited. MWC Members, please go to the Sign-Up! tab on the Members site to reserve your spot (as a Whitney member or non-member). Let us know if you want to join a group for (late-ish) lunch afterward – sometime between 1:30 and 2pm
You’ve seen it many times and in many versions. Grant Wood’s AMERICAN GOTHIC is one of the most recognized paintings in American art – and one which is parodied constantly. As a proponent of artistic “Regionalism”, Grant Wood was a sophisticated painter who intentionally created a bucolic and populist iconography through enduring imagery of a rural, stable, America during the Depression. Painted in 1930 and depicting a house in his home state of Iowa (and enlisting his sister and his dentist as models), AMERICAN GOTHIC is certainly the most famous of Wood’s work but only one of many which reflect on the region and the period.
Wood was part of a new wave of American modernist artists – think Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O’Keefe and Edward Hopper – who rejected European (and perhaps East Coast) influences in favor of indigenous American imagery. Early in his career Wood, like many other American artists of the time, studied in both London and Paris and embraced Impressionism and post-Impressionism. During this period he was exposed to the work of the 15th-century Flemish artist Jan van Eyck which influenced him to take on the clarity of this technique and to incorporate it in his work.
After returning to the United States in 1928, he started to focus on the style and subjects for which he would become well known. He submitted AMERICAN GOTHIC to a competition held by the Art Institute of Chicago (for which he won $300) and the Art Institute acquired the painting for its permanent collection. It is one their most-viewed works. Many critics thought AMERICAN GOTHIC was intended as a satire of small-town rural life. And Iowans were none too happy when the image was first published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette feeling it portrayed them as “pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers.” But Wood protested that the depiction was intended to be a favorable one and said that, “I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.”
The Whitney exhibit means to show us that Grant Wood’s one famous painting did not an artist make and provides context for it in relation to his other work. As described in the Whitney’s exhibition materials, “Wood’s career consists of far more than one single painting. Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables brings together the full range of his art, from his early Arts and Crafts decorative objects and Impressionist oils through his mature paintings, murals, and book illustrations. The exhibition reveals a complex, sophisticated artist whose image as a farmer-painter was as mythical as the fables he depicted in his art. Wood sought pictorially to fashion a world of harmony and prosperity that would answer America’s need for reassurance at a time of economic and social upheaval occasioned by the Depression. Yet underneath its bucolic exterior, his art reflects the anxiety of being an artist and a deeply repressed homosexual in the Midwest in the 1930s. By depicting his subconscious anxieties through populist images of rural America, Wood crafted images that speak both to American identity and to the estrangement and isolation of modern life.”
For more information on Grant Wood and the Whitney exhibit, CLICK HERE to see the March 15th NYTimes article.