Few works of American art are more iconic than Dorothea Lange's photograph Migrant Mother, a striking image of a careworn woman struggling to help her family survive. This photograph is one of the masterpieces in Dignity vs. Despair: Dorothea Lange and Depression-Era Photography, 1933-1942.
Drawn from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s renowned photography collection, Dignity vs. Despair highlights the work of Lange and four other photographers--Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, Marion Post Wolcott, and Peter Sekaer--each of whom documented the devastating effects of the Great Depression.
After the stock market crash in 1929, the United States experienced a deep and long lasting economic depression. Fortunes were lost and many found themselves jobless and homeless. Farms were destroyed due to drought and extreme soil erosion. The Farm Security Administration (FSA), created in response to the Great Depression, provided loans to farmers, resettlement options for destitute families, and camps for migrant workers. Governmental agencies like the FSA saw photography as an effective way to document the disaster--to show firsthand the need for humanitarian aid for suffering.
The exhibition of 64 photographs is arranged thematically and geographically into three sections. The first section includes Lange's images of urban hardship in San Francisco in 1933-38. The next section focuses on the South, an area hard hit by the Depression. The final section documents the plight of the migrant worker. The integration of images with the photographers’ own words--excerpted from captions, field notes, and interviews--gives a poignant look at one of the most difficult times in U.S. history.
On view in the Paul Ross Gallery.
This exhibition has been organized by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Hung Liu: Migrant Stories features paintings and prints by contemporary artist Liu. Based on the iconic photographs of Dust Bowl and Depression-era artist Dorothea Lange, Liu's works depict families and children devastated by the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Although dealing with heartbreaking subject matter, Liu's works are beautifully vibrant--each feature loose, fluid layers of color, with central figures that almost seem to glow. The exhibition asks viewers to consider not only suffering, injustice, and displacement, but also the possibility of human resilience. WAM is pleased to exhibit Hung Liu: Migrant Stories at the same time as we present Dignity vs. Despair: Dorothea Lange and Depression-Era Photography, 1933–1942, an exhibition that includes several of the photographs that inspired Liu.
On view in the Scott and Carol Ritchie Gallery.
What does the Kansas farm look like in 2018? What is life like for the fifth-generation farmer, working inherited land that has passed down over generations? What is life like for the first-generation, sustainable farmer?
Kansas Land features the recent work of two photographers, each working in collaboration with a team of researchers. Both Larry Schwarm's work on the National Science Foundation BACC:FLUD (Biofuels and Climate Change: Farmers' Land Use Decisions) project and photographer Bryon Darby's imagery on The New Farmers Project with sociologist Paul Stock and designer Tim Hossler chronicle the life of farmers and the land they work in light of the social, economic, and environmental challenges of 2018.
Click here for a list of Kansas Land programs and events.
Larry Schwarm's photographs are part of the National Science Foundation BACC:FLUD project. Bringing together more than a dozen researchers from various University of Kansas departments--economics, engineering, and anthropology, as well as two professors from Kansas State University--BACC:FLUD researched farmers' decisions to grow biofuel crops as well as investigating responses to climate change. Schwarm, a Kansas farm kid himself, aims to "put a face on the farmers whose land-use decisions are being studied" as they adapt to increased mechanization, changing markets, and erratic weather. Schwarm's evocative photographs document what has changed and what remains the same for those earning a living on the Kansas prairie.
In The New Farmers Project, Darby, Hossler, and Stock investigated Kansans experimenting with what it means to be a farmer. Stock led the group in interviewing over 30 farmers and stakeholders, aiming to "understand who these people are that are entering farming in what is a very tough time to be a Kansas farmer." Darby documented these interviews with his photographs, while Hossler combined the photographs with interview text to create dynamic, immersive graphics. Together, they provide a vibrant picture of the "unceasing grind and constant wonder" of small-scale farming.
Both projects work to connect the arts and the land with the everyday lives of Kansans. WAM is eager to further this goal by organizing the exhibition and showcasing the projects together.
Arthur Dove: Reality and Abstraction features works by one of WAM's most beloved artists. The exhibition includes large oil paintings as well as miniature watercolors taken from the artist's sketchbooks. Each work reflects Dove's lifelong practice of observing natural elements--including the sun, moon, ocean, and landscape—and then simplifying them into basic shapes and colors. The resulting paintings exist, as Dove described them, "where reality and abstraction meet."
The Dove paintings will be on view during Georgia O'Keeffe: Art, Image, Style, WAM's major spring exhibition. Like his friend and colleague O'Keeffe, Dove is a legend of 20th-century American art.
On view in the DeVore Gallery.
Cityscapes features paintings and prints from the Wichita Art Museum's collection that explore the urban built environment.
Artists from the early-20th century onward depicted crowded streets, dramatic skylines, and towering skyscrapers.
Some used the city to explore the anonymity and isolation of modern life, others to celebrate American industry, and still others created nearly abstract paintings based on the repeating geometry of apartment buildings and street grids.
While Kansas Land and Visions of the Plains feature images of the rural landscape, Cityscapes showcases its opposite--the city.
On view in the Kurdian Gallery.
No Idle Hands gives museum visitors a chance to view the art and artifacts that reflect daily life in America's early history. The exhibition features highlights from WAM's newly acquired collection of more than 450 works of American folk art, including some of the best furniture, samplers, hunting decoys and lures, and corner store paraphernalia from the new collection.
It tells the story of America's past while also foregrounding the beautiful materials and craftsmanship of many of these objects.
WAM's curatorial staff organized the exhibition with local architect Dean Bradley, of Platt, Bradley, Adams, and Associates. As a specialist in residential architecture with a personal passion for history and preservation who also serves on the board of The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, Bradley will design a gallery installation to evoke the stores and homes in which the works were originally used and cherished. Shop signs--including iconic striped barber poles--conjure up an image of Main Street. Portraits, toys, and miniatures--small, hand-held portraits sometimes worn as jewelry--reference the life of the family and home. Each object--some rare and precious and others common fare—tells the story of the changes and continuities of daily life in America over the last 200 years.
On view in the Vollmer Gallery.
Every work of art has a story to tell.
When John Steuart Curry was growing up in on his family farm near Dunavant, Kansas, he would often wander into the high fields of corn. "I remember," he wrote, "wandering through them and being over-powered by the fear of being lost in their green confines."
At 35 years of age, Curry returned to those fields to capture in his work the same sense of drama he felt, "beneath our windblown Kansas skies." For Curry, Kansas Cornfield represented the story of his youth on a Kansas farm.
When Curry's Kansas Cornfield entered WAM's permanent collection, a new chapter in its tale was written and a new story began. The work was the first painting collected by the Wichita Art Museum. As the foundational work of art for the new museum, the painting came to symbolize WAM's commitment to both the highest caliber American art and to Kansas audiences.
Today, Kansas Cornfield has become a part of many visitors' personal stories. Brett Zongker, an Associated Press journalist based in Washington D.C., recently featured the painting on his popular Twitter feed. As a self-described "son of Kansas," the painting represents home to Zongker.
Museums, by their very nature, are repositories of incredible stories. The Wichita Art Museum has introduced its visitors to the best American artwork and has been a part of thousands of engaging stories. In celebration of the museum's upcoming 80th anniversary in 2015, Storytelling, a reinstallation of the permanent collection, celebrates the histories, mysteries, and anecdotes that make the Wichita Art Museum collection unlike any other.
Each and every one of WAM's objects has a story to tell. What influenced its creation? Who is pictured? How did the work come to Wichita? Storytelling invites visitors to take another look at familiar favorites from the collection as well as important works that have been off view for many years. We hope that the artworks inspire a meaningful encounter with the past, one that is relevant to everyone's personal story today.
On view in the Louise Caldwell Murdock Gallery, Elizabeth S. Navas Gallery, and the Excel/Cargill Cares Gallery.
Reimagined anew and opening in April, the museum presents a compelling arrangement of the distinguished and growing glass art collection. For the new display, the museum consulted with the Seattle-based independent curator and craft scholar Vicki Halper.
Notably, Halper curated WAM's popular 2014 summer exhibition Australian Glass Art, American Links for the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.
Revealing WAM's rich holdings , the variety, quality, and artistry of Steuben glass will be presented. In fascinating ways, the exquisite work of the Steuben Glass Works, the world-class glass manufacturer (1903—2011), continues to beguile and inspire artists. The new installation will acknowledge and examine how contemporary glass artists explore the continuing allure and legacy of Steuben. Magnificent work by such living artists as Dante Marioni and Kiki Smith will be on view.
The new collection display also features a new commission--an elaborate, Steuben-inspired candelabrum--by glass artist Andy Paiko. This special work will be effervescent! It incorporates an abundantly enthusiastic array of forms and techniques first developed by Steuben. Paiko's tapering candle holders that hang gracefully from the central form, each demonstrate the Steuben "air-twist" technique, perfected by designer George Thompson. The cinched, bell-shaped forms of upper part of the large-scale candleholder are typical of Thompson's designs. WAM's collection includes original sketches by Thompson during his time working for Steuben, making Paiko’s re-imagining of Thompson's forms particularly relevant to the collection.
On view in the F. Price Cossman Memorial Trust Gallery.
Charles Russell was one of the great painters of the American West. With little formal training but much firsthand experience of his subject, he captured the western landscape, wildlife, cowboys, and Indians in all of its wild if nostalgic moments.
In 1880, when he was only 16, Russell went to Montana for the first time to work on a family friend’s ranch. Ranch life was not for Russell, but he would stay in Montana for two years working for a hunter and trapper.
He began to draw and paint animals at this time and learned a great deal about their anatomy. In 1882, he went to work as a night herder for a group of cowboys called the Judith Basin Roundup, and on and off for the next 11 years he would work watching cattle by night and painting during the day.
In 1888, Russell returned to St. Louis for a short time and submitted some of his art to Harpers Weekly, where it was published. His work had become very popular in the Montana territory, and he began to sell pieces and take commissions for works when he returned.
With the advent of the railroad to Montana, the territory became more civilized, and Russell mostly gave up cowboy life in order to become a full time painter of the life he had known in the West that was now slowly fading.
On view in the Charles M. Russell Gallery.
The term salon style derives from the exhibition of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, which began in 1667 in Paris.
In order to display work by all the Academy's students, the paintings were hung as close as possible from floor to ceiling. In the nineteenth century, this salon-style hanging became increasingly popular across Europe and in the United States. The gallery has been transformed into an American salon featuring remarkable 19th-century paintings from the museum's permanent collection.
On view in the Carlene and Lee Banks Rotunda Gallery.
WAM's unique collection of Pre-Columbian art and artifacts was collected by Haig Kurdian between 1954-1959 during expeditions into Mexico and Costa Rica. The collection is mostly pottery, a few pieces of metal, carved shells, and precious stones.
In Mesoamerican culture, pottery was appreciated as an artistic medium--a way people could express emotions and ideas--not solely as a utilitarian material. To make ceramic art, these ancient peoples gathered clay from local sources and formed shapes using only their hands by pinching or coiling the clay. After shaping the objects, they were placed in very hot, open fires and baked until hard.
"I particularly love that tripod bowl, from Teotihuacan, with the square legs. It's a superb, beautiful piece. To think that someone made that, not on a potter's wheel, but by piling up coils of clay, then working it and firing it. And it's survived at least 2,500 years. The other tripod bowl I love represents a squash and has parrot legs. That one is from Colima," Kurdian said.
The artifacts originated from various locations in Mexico including Colima, Veracruz, Valley of Mexico, Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Guerrero. The collection includes artifacts from Costa Rica: including Atlantic Watershed, Guanacaste-Nicoya Zone, and the Diquis Zone. The objects date from 1000 B.C. to 1450 A.D.
The collection was given to the Wichita Art Museum by Haig, Rima, and Gregory Kurdian in 1977. Then in 1986, Louise and S.O. Beren offered WAM a selection of artifacts, they had earlier received from Haig's expeditions.
On view in the Cessna Art Investigation Gallery.
Dr. Robert Burnstein, a Detroit psychiatrist, began collecting glass in the 1980s. He was attracted to American glass of the 19th and 20th centuries because, as he stated, "it was a time when handcrafted expertise and precision craftsmanship were the benchmarks of the American glass industry."
Soon he came to find that among American companies, the glass produced by Steuben was unsurpassed in quality, color intensity, and breadth of design.
Therefore, he focused his collecting first on Steuben, then on candlesticks in particular. He concentrated on candlesticks given their elegance of design and great variety of their colors and decorative techniques. Dr. Burnstein has presented his collection in honor of his parents, Donald and Arlene Burnstein.
On view in the Lulu H. Brasted Board Room.