Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism
GREENSBURG, Pennsylvania (April 5, 2022) – Opening Sunday, May 29 at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, the exhibition Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism brings together works of art separated by almost a century to consider how they are bound together by the shared experience of living and working in difficult times.
The exhibition is guest curated by Alex J. Taylor, Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh, and includes major magic realist and American scene painting from the collection of Jason Schoen, one of the most important privately-owned holdings of such work. The works from the Schoen collection are supplemented with key loans from other institutions, including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as with selections from The Westmoreland’s own permanent collection. Alongside these historical paintings and prints, which are predominantly from the 1930s through 1950s, the exhibition stages encounters with works by five contemporary artists to capture shared experiences across time.
Many of the works in the exhibition are characterized by their dream-like vision of the social realm rendered with precise technical skill. Some of the historical works present images of civil unrest in ways that are startlingly contemporary, including several that unfold in the shadow of monuments, or capture violent struggles in public space. While the exhibition emphasizes works associated with social realism and the often surrealist-inflected imagery of magic realism in the United States, it draws works from across a variety of styles to explore varied approaches to the human subject.
“Alone Together uses the collective space of the exhibition to reflect on shared experiences across time,” Taylor offered. “Feelings of connection and disconnection define many images of modern life, and this exhibition invites visitors to The Westmoreland to draw connections between the social conditions of the past and the present, and to dream their way into the untold stories that these human subjects contain.”
In the early-to-mid twentieth century, American realist painters produced evocative images of human connection and disconnection tied to the traumas of war, civil unrest, economic depression, and other societal upheavals. Such works pursued a compelling approach to realism that captures the uneasiness of a modern world in turmoil. Long overlooked in favor of more obviously modern styles, the work of such artists has recently enjoyed a resurgence of attention. One result of this interest is that contemporary painters can be seen to pursue similarly innovative approaches to representational painting that grapple with what it feels like to live in the world right now.
“The concept for this exhibition was conceived during the pandemic, and it presents us all with images that now resonate in different ways, having collectively experienced the past two years,” stated Anne Kraybill, the Richard M. Scaife Director/CEO. “Bringing forth a sense of shared human experience and connection to the past, I think our visitors will particularly find the encounters Dr. Taylor has created between the historical works and those by the contemporary artists in the exhibition to be compelling and thought-provoking.”
Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism will be on view at The Westmoreland from May 29 -September 25, 2022. A schedule of public programming related to the exhibition, including a panel discussion, artist talk, culinary experience, and film screening, will be announced soon in the Museum’s Spring/Summer 2022 Perspectives newsletter and posted at thewestmoreland.org/events for registration.
This exhibition is generously supported by The Heinz Endowments and the Hillman Exhibition Fund of The Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
About Guest Curator Alex J. Taylor
Alex J. Taylor is a historian of modern American art and visual culture. His research focuses on the social, political and commercial entanglements of American art in a transnational context.
He is the author of Forms of Persuasion: Art and Corporate Image in the 1960s (2022), published by the University of California Press. Far from rejecting the values of post-war capitalism, as is often claimed of the art of the sixties, Forms of Persuasion considers how many artists were deeply immersed in the marketing strategies of big business.
Before shifting his focus to American art, Taylor spent a decade working as an arts administrator, critic and curator in Australia. Alex’s first book Perils of the Studio (2007) examined the self-fashioning, promotion and professionalization that defined the visual cultures of the artist’s studio in late-nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian painting.
At the University of Pittsburgh, Taylor teaches American art and curatorial practice and leads department’s collaborations with local museums and archives. From 2014–2016, Taylor was the inaugural Terra Foundation Research Fellow in American Art at Tate, where he led the Refiguring American Art initiative, encompassing publications, workshops and gallery displays.