When we speak about contemporary art, it is widely understood that we mean the work of artists living in the twenty-first century. Of course, the concept that all art was once contemporary is one that gets bounced around among art historians, academics, curators, collectors, and even artists themselves. Contemporary art comprises a wide range of ideas, media, and processes. It can be perceived as very difficult to “understand” because it is impossible to classify. That can also be one of the very reasons we celebrate it. It is the art of our time.
As twenty-first century artists may find their work at times misunderstood, the contemporary artists of the past often struggled with rejection and negative criticisms throughout their careers. Monet’s paintings were regarded as “formless, unfinished, and ugly” (getty.edu). Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime. Cezanne’s submissions to the Salon were rejected every year from 1864 to 1869. To say contemporary art can be a source of controversy and varied opinions is an understatement.
Joslyn Art Museum has long held contemporary art in focus. Our role as a Museum devoted to collecting art representing the range of human creativity has kept us in tune with work currently being produced, in our region and around the world, since our inception. It is fascinating to think of some of the most beloved works in the collection and consider when they were acquired. Gant Wood’s Stone City, Iowa, was purchased for Joslyn the year it was painted. Jackson Pollock’s Galaxy came into the collection in 1949, soon after its completion, and is now known to represent the very start of the period of his classic “drip” paintings. In the 1970s, iconic works by Calder, Frankenthaler, Noland, and Segal came into the collection. The 1980s and 90s brought the Bleckner, Butterfield, Judd, Lewitt, Pearlstein, Puryear, and Wesselmann.
Joslyn regularly staged juried exhibitions in its early years. Intended to bring the work of artists from throughout the Midwest to Omaha audiences, these exhibitions showcased painting, sculpture, graphic arts, and utilitarian design. In the 1950s, Joslyn initiated a regional biennial that continued until 1988. In the 1990s, the Museum organized a popular series of juried exhibitions focusing on regional art across Nebraska and its six contiguous states. The series, Midlands Invitational, featured painting and sculpture (1990), installation art (1992), photography (1997), and works on paper (2000).
Art Seen: A Juried Exhibition of Artists from Omaha to Lincoln is a highly anticipated showcase of art being made in Joslyn’s home city and our state capital. From over 200 submissions, Karin Campbell, Joslyn’s Phil Willson Curator of Contemporary Art, and Bill Arning, Director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, selected thirty-seven for the exhibition. Their focus and commitment to the process was commendable, from initial review to studio visits to final decisions. Their choices have brought to fruition an exhibition that celebrates the approaches of individual artists from Nebraska’s two largest cities and spotlights the strong creative current that flows through our region.
See you in the galleries!
Jack Becker, Ph.D.
Executive Director & CEO