Daniel Tidwell, NPT Media Update Arts Commentator, takes a look at the new exhibit at the Frist Center
The Brooklyn Museum has always defined my experience of life in the Borough. For over ten years I lived in a number of Park Slope apartments within a two mile radius of the museum and visited it hundreds of times. In the summers before I could afford an air conditioner, the museum was a refuge from the Brooklyn heat―I’d take a sketch book and spend hour upon hour in its cool dark corridors. In the winter the museum was an easy weekend outing that didn’t require getting on the subway and trudging in the bitter cold into Manhattan. I know the museum pretty well, but was unaware until today that Brooklyn has one of the nation’s foremost collections of watercolors, from which a shimmering selection is currently on view at The Frist Center for the Visual Arts in the new exhibition which opens this week, BRUSHED WITH LIGHT. Some colleagues from NPT and I attended a media preview of the exhibit on Thursday morning with Teresa Carbone, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
At the heart of this illuminating exhibition are a series of spectacular works by Winslow Homer. According to exhibition curator Carbone, watercolor painting in America was never the same after Homer, who pioneered a spontaneous technique that made brilliant use of the transparency of watercolor. On one wall in this gallery are four pieces from Homer—two tropical scenes and two western scenes―which literally took my breath away with their gorgeous execution and virtuosic handling of a notoriously difficult medium. The exhibition also contains works by Homer’s rival for the title of American watercolor genius, John Singer Sargent, whose dazzling works provide an apt counterpoint for the more restrained works of Homer. Sargent for me is a guilty pleasure—his painting is the type of work that I’ve been trained to dismiss, yet I’ve always been drawn to his dazzling technical facility which is in full force here in a few of his lush watercolors. Other standouts include two stunning works by Childe Hassam and a rendering of a waterfall (“Catskill Stream,” ca. 1932) by Gordon Stevenson that is so beautiful, and so rich with visual pleasure that it almost takes on a kitschy, Thomas Kinkade-esque quality—and yet the work pulls back from this precipice and stands alone as a remarkable remnant of a time when painters could depict the American landscape with pure intentions—pushing the formal properties of their medium and exploring new avenues of expression.
Carbone says that most of these works are not displayed on a regular basis, even at the Museum because of their sensitivity to light—explaining why I had no idea that the collection existed in Brooklyn. It’s a good feeling to have this selection of paintings here in Nashville at our own Frist Center. BRUSHED WITH LIGHT runs until June 22, 2007.