For Issue 5, we’re calling on artists to look outside and to show us what they see. We want landscapes in the broadest sense, from pastoral poetry to digital mindscapes, from utopian landscapes to futurescapes. Throw open the curtains, go for a walk, delve into your imagination. Share what you see, what you wish you saw, what you fear to see.
Artists have long sought to represent the world they see, from the bucolic realism of Jean-Francois Millet’ The Gleaner’s to Claude Monet’s impressionist Water Lilies to the cubist landscape of Paul Klee’s Temple Gardens. As time has moved on and culture has changed, artists have continued to push themselves to represent their world in new and interesting ways. They respond to a variety of personal, political, and societal influences to turn their very specific experience of the landscape into something universal.
Lauren P Della Monica is an art consultant, private art collection curator and the guest curator of Painted Landscapes: Contemporary Views, currently on display at The Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, MA, USA. all the sins spoke to her about the exhibit that grew out of her 2013 book of the same name, how she chose the pieces that make up the exhibition and what characterises contemporary American painted landscapes.
all the sins: How did this exhibition come about?
Lauren P Della Monica: My book, Painted Landscapes: Contemporary Views, upon which this exhibition is based, was a wonderful way to introduce the topic of contemporary American landscape painting to a broad audience in book form. Over time, and while working with many different collectors as an art consultant, I saw that most people end up with a landscape painting in their collection. For some, those paintings are traditional, representation landscapes, and others gravitate towards urban landscapes or perhaps abstract landscapes. Perhaps there is something inherently comforting, relatable, or appealing about the landscape.
In looking at many museum exhibitions, gallery shows and art fairs, I saw landscape paintings everywhere from the top of the market to local community art centres. Landscape painting, however, doesn’t get as much critical or curatorial attention as it is thought of as being very traditional, so I thought it would make an exciting project to show viewers what I had been seeing myself in the marketplace. The museum exhibition at Heritage presented an opportunity for the works of art to come off the pages of the book and onto the walls, where a whole new audience can experience Painted Landscapes.
ats: Have you always had an interest in landscape painting? What is it about the form that you love most?
Della Monica: I have always had an interest in art, from the traditional genres of portraiture, history painting, landscape painting and still life, to contemporary art. Landscape painting in particular has always fascinated me as an example of a traditional genre that has been treated as anything but since the beginning of the modern period. Since then the landscape has been the subject of vastly diverse approaches to art, encompassing varied styles, experiments, and approaches by artists.
ats: It’s a broad discipline so where did you start when putting this exhibition together?
Della Monica: The project examines contemporary American landscape painting. I found that there were many artists who came to mind immediately and who formed the nexus of the book and ultimately the exhibition, including Alex Katz, Loid Dodd, Wolf Kahn, Rackstraw Downes, and Jane Freilicher. I wanted to take a broad look at what is happening across the country, so I spent time looking for a diverse range of artists working not just in the major art centres such as New York, but also in the Pacific Northwest, the desert Southwest, and in California. This project in no way encompasses everything in contemporary American landscape painting, but it is a broad look at the types of work being created. In addition to showing various approaches to painting itself, it was also very important to me that the book and the exhibition present an equal balance of women and men artists, earlier to mid-career as well as late-career artists, and emerging talent beside household names. All of these parameters influenced the selection of artists.
ats: Who are the most interesting American landscape artists working at the moment?
Della Monica: All of the artists in this show are interesting to me for many reasons. There are also many more out there who deserve such attention as well. For every artist I included, a viewer will suggest another worthy artist who could have been included. It is a rich field.
ats: What is your favourite piece in the exhibition and why?
Della Monica: How to pick just one… I have works by a number of these artists in my personal collection. I think the truth is that having worked on this project for five years or more, I have a different favourite every day, for different reasons. Today, I am really enjoying looking at Randall Exon’s Current with its incredible quiet and stillness. I also love Derek Buckner’s Dusk, Gowanus Canal is a painting of a highly polluted waterway in Brooklyn, New York that often comes to mind for its incredibly beautiful range of colour and its highly technical brushwork capturing the reflectivity of clouds on water. On the other side of the spectrum, Chris Brown and David Kapp, for example, both painted large, active canvases that are a riot of colour and activity that draw the eye around the compositions, and of which I never tire.
ats: Are there pieces that you love but had to leave out?
Della Monica: I chose 60 artists for the book and 43 for the exhibition both of which were somewhat arbitrary numbers but required given the constraints of publishing and exhibition planning. All of the artists are strong and represent important aspects of landscape painting. However, there was one artist whose work I truly love and who appears in the book but didn’t make it into the show for logistical reasons — Maureen Gallace. She had a show at Maureen Paley in London in Fall 2016 and she currently has a 70-piece exhibition up at MoMA PS1 in New York. Had it not been for the timing of her major exhibitions, I would have loved to have had her work at Heritage.
ats: Are there themes and ideas that bind each piece to one another? What do they have to say about present-day America?
Della Monica: The exhibition at Heritage allowed me to take a broad topic and arrange it thematically. Presenting the topic in an exhibition format, free from the constraints of the printed page, allowed me to arrange and present the artwork in more subtle, thematic areas. The exhibit is divided into five sections: History & Inspiration, Place, Structure & Landscape, The Tree, and The Act of Painting. Much of the work in this show could transition from one section into another, so the organizing principals are fluid rather than rigid. The topics are a way to make sense of the trends, commonalities, and struggles of today’s landscape painters. Contemporary landscape painting is a very large, broad topic, and the themes in this show seek to organize the breadth of material to address the motivations of the artists and the resulting work they produce.
ats: How does contemporary landscape art compare with its historical counterparts?
Della Monica: Contemporary landscape painting is diverse and motivated by many of the things that motivate artists working in any topical area. That said, there are rich artistic traditions in this particular area of painting that certainly have influenced the development of the artwork produced today. In America, the grand tradition of the Hudson River School painters has informed most landscape painting, serving as a shared heritage. The Modernists too produced a large and influential body of landscape work, with artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley working through the 20th century to pare scenes down to their non-narrative essential geometries and qualities. Edward Hopper’s oeuvre comprising paintings of architecture and light in the landscape, urban or rural, has also been incredibly influential on the direction that today’s artists have gone.
ats: Are there any marked differences between the American and British traditions?
Della Monica: The American and British landscape painting traditions are different as a result of the historical precedents, and the particular artists that have been the most influential in the field. The physical places and geography of the landscape, too, are quite different. In the United States, for example, the Modernists such as O’Keeffe, Andrew Dasburg, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley painted extensively in the desert Southwest when travel to New Mexico became easier due to the advent of the passenger railroad. These desert paintings captured a grandeur and vastness, spirituality, and a glaring, desert light, not seen previously in most mainstream landscape work from the East Coast. There are common tenets, though, such as realism and abstraction, that are evident in landscape painting regardless of national origin. In contemporary art, we are able to look at things in a more universal way with the fluidity and ease of looking at art easily through travel, international exhibitions (I have seen exhibitions of Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate in London), and social media. And we both lay claim to major influencer David Hockney.
ats: What is the role of landscape art today? Is it different from, say, the Hudson River School or Constable’s day?
Della Monica: There are a variety of motivations for today’s landscape painters who work in a very broad spectrum of styles given the combination of stylistic influences and of contemporary life. The artists paint our contemporary world, including the grittier and more challenging aspects of our environment. Some document the ever-changing world in which we live, others create fantasy worlds which are in some way preferable to reality, some express a sense of grandeur in the landscapes which dwarf humanity, and still other works express sociopolitical concerns for ecology, natural resources, and environmental conditions.
Painted Landscapes: Contemporary Views is on view at Heritage Museums & Gardens April 17-October 9 2017, daily 10am-5pm. It features works by Edward Hopper, Paul Resika, April Gornik, and 44 other premier American contemporary landscape painters and forms a beautiful collection that challenges our notion of landscape painting and addresses what the genre is today.
Featured image: David Kapp
Square Crowd, 2010
Oil on linen
Courtesy of Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York