Montclair Art Museum

Montclair, NJ



Lyrical Visions: Music and Dance in American Art


On September 17, 2000, The Montclair Art Museum will open a new exhibition drawn from its Permanent Collection, Lyrical Visions: Music and Dance in American Art. This entrancing exhibition explores the dramatic relationships between the visual arts and the performing arts of music and dance during the 19th and 20th centuries in America, and the ritual pageantry and spiritual expressions of Native American dance and music. Lyrical Visions includes 75 paintings, works on paper, photographs, and Native American artifacts. Evoking a comprehensive range of visions, the exhibition will illustrate the provocative impact of the performing arts on artists, and their efforts to capture lyrical and physical beauty, symbolism, and abstract rhythms and energy in a variety of mediums. Lyrical Visions will be on view through Sunday, January 7th, 2001. (left: Washington Allston (1779-1843), Evening Hymn, 1835, oil on canvas, 25 1/14 x 23 inches, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. H. St. John Webb, 1961.20)

Many American artists have viewed music and dance as an art form. In contrast, for thousands of years, Native Americans have danced and made music as spiritual rituals and to honor deities. The breadth of images and mediums displayed in Lyrical Visions, however, illustrates a common, universal beauty--the transcendent power of music and dance over human emotions and their ability to transport the view and listener beyond ordinary experience and into the imaginative realm. Lyrical Visions powerfully demonstrates the multi-faceted inspirational effect of the performing arts on American painters, sculptors, printmakers and photographers. (left: George Catlin (1796-1872), Buffalo Dance, from American Indian Portfolio, 1845, hand colored lithograph, 20 x 25 inches mat, Gift of Miss Ruth Bannister in Memory of Lemuel Bannister, 1981.23.8)

The exhibition showcases three circa 1917 watercolors of Isadora Duncan by Abraham Walkowitz, who said of the famed modern dancer, " She was a muse. She created. Her body was music." The images are particularly noteworthy since Duncan didn't permit her performances to be filmed for posterity.

A more recent pastel and graphite drawing by Terry Rosenberg captures the Mark Morris Dance Group in rehearsal at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1993. The dancers' lyrical improvisations convey their feelings as they spontaneously move through space. Though vastly different in subject and media, the former freelance tabloid photographer Weegee's 1964 photograph, At A Club in Harlem, and Chanteuse, an etching by William Gropper, dramatically convey their subjects' losing themselves to the power of music.

Also on view is White Music, 1983, a large scale collage by leading Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell, inspired by the calligraphic beauty of the musical notation system, and two Morgan Russell paintings representative of his effort to establish analogies between color organization and musical composition, Study in Transparency and Photo-Eidos.

Children's naïve ability to physically express musical rhythm was a frequent theme of Margery Ryerson, whose lithograph Rainy Day Concert is included in Lyrical Visions. Ryerson is also known for her contributions to The Art Spirit, the classic compilation of Robert Henri's writings. Henri, an influential artist and teacher recognized actresses and dancers as fellow artists and frequently explored single physical gestures as revelations of a performer's character. He advised his students, "Better to paint the gesture of the hand, than the hand." His Costumed Dancer #2, an ink drawing on paper from the early 20th century, features the stylized and dramatic gesture of a dancer.

The exhibition also includes works by such well-known masters as Washington Allston, John George Brown, William Merritt Chase, Arthur Bowen Davies, Robert Henri, Reginald Marsh, Moses Soyer, Raphael Soyer, and George McNeil.

Lyrical Vision's array of Native American art includes hand-colored lithographs Buffalo Dance and Snow-Shoe Dance from George Catlin's American Indian Portfolio. Catlin, 1796 - 1872, was a self-taught artist who devoted his career to recording "justly and correctly the customs" of the rapidly diminishing Native American population. The exhibition's Sioux War Dance, a watercolor on paper by Oscar Howe, a Yankton Sioux, and Kiva Dreams, by Dan Lomahaftewa, a Hopi/Choctaw, depict time-honored rituals of dance and spiritual worship, as well as paintings by Tonita Pena/Quah Ah and Abel Sanchez/ Oqua Pi from the San Ildefonso Pueblo, Ma-Pe-Wi, Southwest, Zia Pueblo, and John Nieto, a Mescalaro Apache. Early 20th century photographs of dances and dancers by Carl Moon and T. Harmon Parkhurst, and an array of musical instruments, ceremonial headdresses, lances and masks are also on display in the exhibition.

Lyrical Visions is curated by Chief Curator Gail Stavitsky, Curator of Native American Art, Twig Johnson, Associate Curator Diane Fischer, and Mary Birmingham, MAM Cataloguer. The exhibition will run through January 7th, 2000, and will include a variety of educational programming, including gallery lectures by MAM's curators, author Marcia Morton, Professor of Art History at Pratt Institute, dance and storytelling performances by Native American performers, and numerous family programs celebrating the relationship between music and art.

rev. 9/15/00

Read more about the Montclair Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

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