Magazine article The Spectator

More Real Art, Please

Magazine article The Spectator

More Real Art, Please

Article excerpt

Norman Rockwell's America

Dulwich Picture Gallery, until 27 March

Percy Kelly: A Troubled Genius

Messum's, 8 Cork Street, London W1, until 29 January

Although I am an admirer of Dulwich Picture Gallery, and like to support its generally rewarding exhibition programme, I will not be making the pilgrimage to see its latest show, Norman Rockwell's America. This is not just because it's quite a hike to Dulwich for me, involving a bus, a train, another bus and another train (anything in excess of three hours from door to door), but also because I don't think the trip will be worth it. I've been impressed by the series of monographic exhibitions Dulwich has mounted in recent years on English artists - Sutherland, Piper, Sickert and most recently Paul Nash - but the other side of the programme is an interest in American artists which I can't always share.

Don't get me wrong: I love the best of American art, and find it deeply exciting.

But Dulwich is a small museum, inevitably of limited resources, and its 'special relationship' with American Art (to be applauded in theory) does not extend to a single disinterested sponsor who will pick up the bill for procuring only the finest examples of that nation's artistic output. As a consequence, Dulwich has to cut its coat to suit its cloth and in effect take what's available - corporate collections which reflect more glory on the corporation than on the artists represented, minor museum accumulations, or packages from wealthy American Foundations which desire the imprimatur of a prestigious English exhibiting venue. Oh, for the days when the CIA backed European shows of Abstract Expressionism in the cause of cultural imperialism!

I'm all in favour of an English Museum devoted entirely to American Art, and paid for by American largesse, and perhaps then we would see proper shows of such relative unknowns (in this country) as Wayne Thiebaud (born 1920), Milton Avery (18851965), John Marin (1870-1953) and Marsden Hartley (1877-1943). And I could make a substantial list of others suffering a similar neglect here. Recently, I received a wodge of publicity material about the American Museum in Bath, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Will this not fit the bill? I hear you exclaim. But it's a collection of some 15,000 items devoted to the decorative arts, housed in Claverton Manor, thanks to the remarkable generosity of two American citizens, Dallas Pratt and John Judkin.

Here you will find fancy gowns and Shaker furniture, a superb collection of quilts, CigarStore Indians, Navajo rugs - but only a very few paintings and sculptures. No, there needs to be another museum to do justice to the breadth and originality, the sheer achievement of American art.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) is not an artist who deserves an exhibition in a British museum. He was an American illustrator best known for his cover paintings for the Saturday Evening Post, for which he produced more than 300 in the period between 1916 and 1963. Rockwell became a master of reactionary self-image, adept at recreating American family life of a bygone age, mostly with a rural slant. …

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