Morris Graves

American Realism in flux: workers, mallards, and handstands

Highlights from the Smithsonian's Sara Roby Foundation Collection at the Portland Art Museum

Approaching Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection, one might expect to see a bunch of naturalistic renderings of real things in and of the world. Gustave Courbet’s take on the everyday may have been novel and shocking in the mid-nineteenth century but in 2018, Realism strikes most as a kind of pedestrian proposition. But the forty-four objects, on loan from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection, currently at the Portland Art Museum, span seventy years and are as nuanced and varied as the twentieth century. Realism is often in service to revealing a kind of truth about what it is like to be alive; but art, the act and its outcome, more often evades the quest for concise truth and instead reveals questions, uncertainties, contingencies. This is what characterizes Modern American Realism—pictures and objects, loose referents to life back then.

Edward Hopper, “Cape Cod Morning,” (1950). Oil on canvas. 34 1/8 x 40 1/4 inches.

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