Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Andrew Wyeth's World: Now on View

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Andrew Wyeth's World: Now on View

Article excerpt

AFTER a successful three-museum tour of Japan, the first major retrospective of the work of Andrew Wyeth in nearly 20 years has opened at its sole U.S. venue, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

The popularity - and controversy - that has surrounded the modern realist for decades won't be lost in the heartland.

"This retrospective will revive the conversation about just what is valuable about art to us in America, and just how Wyeth is valuable, both his work itself and his contribution to American art in this century," said museum director Marc Wilson.

Thousands of visitors are expected for "Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography," a collection of 138 watercolors, temperas, drybrush works and drawings. The show opened late last month and continues through Nov. 26.

The museum received a record 2,000 responses within 48 hours of sending invitations to members-only viewings, Wilson said. Inquiries about the show have come from across the country. Four hotels near the museum are offering special packages for the exhibition.

But the show is also reviving debate over the merit of Wyeth's work, acknowledged in the museum's literature about the show.

One passage reads: "Although Wyeth had no pupils but his son, Jamie, no artist followers and no school that had emerged around him, he was essentially ostracized from the artistic community, with epithets such as `the barnyard soothsayer,' `the grand patriarch of American schlock' and `the poor man's Andy Warhol.' "

Kansas City banker R. Crosby Kemper, a Wyeth friend and collector whose financial support helped bring the show to Kansas City, dismisses such criticism and points out the artist's popularity.

Wyeth's defenders say his peaceful rural visions of Chadds Ford, Penn., and Cushing, Maine, are familiar, technically impressive, even profound. But critics fault him for his lack of training (he was tutored at home, and his illustrator father, N.C. Wyeth, was his major artistic influence) and his provincialism. They say his art cannot be valuable if it is so easily understood.

"Wyeth has been swimming upstream all his career," said Thomas Hoving, who curated the last major Wyeth show in 1976 - "The Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons" - while director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. …

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