With Dada and Cezanne almost out the door, the National Gallery of Art is gearing up for another landmark exhibition, "Charles Sheeler: Across Media." This small exhibition, which opens on Sunday, is a treat to see.
Sheeler dabbled in photography, film, painting and drawing, and the exhibition is true to its title, showcasing his work in all forms. The exhibit is at its best when it positions works on the same subject in direct conversation with each other. One wall, for example, hosts a photograph, a drawing and a painting of the same object: a stove that's prominently featured in a 1917 photograph taken by the artist. Sheeler is clearly a master in each art form; it's fascinating to see how flawlessly he renders each subject he captures.
Charles Brock, the curator of the exhibition, noted the artist's quest for perfection at today's press preview. He said Sheeler strove to study and nearly memorize his subjects before setting down to paint or draw them. X-rays of Sheeler's painted works show that he did little revision on the canvas. Such precision is evident when looking at paintings like his "American Landscape" (1932), which was painted from a photograph Sheeler took of Ford's River Rouge factory in Dearborn, Mich. Even though real life on the factory must have been loud and chaotic, Sheeler's image abstracts the scene to its bare minimum, showing a serene landscape -- one that was more appropriate in his time than the grand vistas of the Hudson River School artists.
Other highlights include "Manhatta," a 1920 film the artist made with Paul Strand, and "Industry," a reproduction of the three-part photomural the artist made for an invitational show at the Museum of Modern Art.
Even though the exhibit is small, it's a fantastic show to walk around. The works are pretty and precise and I enjoyed following the connections between the artworks. To learn more about the show, go Sunday at 2 p.m. when the curator gives an introduction to the exhibit.
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