The Vogels and “America in View” at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art

We went on Saturday to visit the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design. Our principal purpose was to see the Vogel Collection; so first a note on that. Dorothy and Herbert Vogel were art collectors who on a shoe-string budget collected more than 4000 works of art. Much of this body of work can be classified as Minimalist or Conceptual art. The Vogels stuffed their collection into their tiny Manhattan apartment. The Vogels donated their work to the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and it was decided that some of the work would be donated to each of the states, Fifty Works for Fifty States. All of this is delightfully documented in the film “Herb and Dorothy.” I highly recommend this film. It is fun and shows what can be accomplished, as a collector, with taste, understanding, and very little money.

Next we have a truly monumental and marvelous exhibit, “America in View Landscape Photography 1865 – now.” There is a lot to say about this wonderful exhibit, and I hope to explore some of the individual photographers in upcoming blogs. But simply and succinctly, if you can go see it, you must see it. The exhibit runs through January 13.
For many of us, American landscape photography begins with Ansel Adams’ images of a pristine wilderness. But this is only one vision, and it doesn’t even begin there.

A miraculous point is that most of this work is in the permanent collection of RISD, much of it collected by the late photographer and RISD Provost, Joe Deal, and his wife Betsy Ruppa or donated by others to the museum. I have been to few exhibits with so much photography, so well displayed. I think that I could have spent hours there and certainly plan on a return visit.

So let me just mention a few personal favorite highlights:

  1. Laura Gilpin, Footprints in the sand 1931;
  2. Arthur Rothstein, Father and son walking in the face of a dust storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1936;
  3. Documentary works of the American West in the 1870’s by Timothy O’Sullivan and William H. Bell;
  4. Beautifully contrasted images of women at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Anne Brigman, Soul of the blasted pine, 1909; Clarence White, Morning, 1905.

The point is dramatically made that landscape has many meanings. It does not just connote a pristine wilderness void of people. People share, enhance, or mar the environment. It can be mythical or it can be raw. It can be artistic or utilitarian. The American landscape is both in the National Parks and in your neighborhood. It is a lonely dark house with a brightly lit front entryway seen on a night walk. It is a decaying urban environment, or a sewage treatment plant.

I will now have a new sense of meaning the next time I fly into San Francisco Airport and marvel at the salt extraction ponds vividly colored by the halobacter (salt thriving bacteria).  It’s all landscape.

This entry was posted in Reviews and Critiques.

One Comment

  1. guillermo velasco October 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Hi David,
    I will have to make the trip to RISD now that you have described the exhibit so interestingly.

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