Morgan Lehman Gallery is pleased to present PROMISED LAND, a group show of emerging and mid-career artists working in a variety of media. The exhibition, curated by Elizabeth M. Grady of the Whitney Museum of American Art, will address the recent upsurge in art dealing with “American” imagery, broadly defined. American history, the landscape, personality archetypes and stereotypes, and objects loaded with both ideology and personal memory are used variously by this group of ten artists to explore how an “American identity” may be formed, and what it takes to disturb collective notions of what that means.
The invention of a national identity (an unstable thing at best) is closely tied to the fluidity of the construction of a historical narrative. These artists work with an eye to the various slippages in truth and fiction that we use to create both personal and collective memories. They tend to view history as a kind of discontinuous continuum, where narratives intersect at different places and historical moments, based on who is doing the storytelling or what the desired outcome might be. Resisting the postmodern conundrum that nothing can really be known and that everything is contingent, this position suggests that fault lines and flexibility in the narrative of history can actually point to new truths and expose unrecognized elements of our collective American consciousness.
In the painting of Elizabeth Huey, Charles Browning, and Miriam Vlaming, we find historical imagery that stretches from the nineteenth century to colonial times, but each artist riffs differently on this material, with Browning’s work a critique of the view that our founders were all white Europeans, and of the racial stereotypes and assumptions that underlie this view. Huey’s paintings of mental institutions use hybrid imagery that allows the viewer to slip in scale and time between different elements, suggesting that our present moment is just as opaque and troubling as the historical mistreatment of the mentally ill. Vlaming, a German, offers an elegiac view of American Civil War soldiers, but it is not clear if she is honoring their actions or mourning the erosion of the ideals for which they stood.
John Salvest, Wyatt Nash and David Kennedy-Cutler offer iconic images tied to American actions and idealism in their sculpture. Salvest’s bitter commentary on the failed promise of our “Promised Land” recalls the speech of Martin Luther King, Jr., while Kennedy-Cutler questions the meaning of symbols and their role as markers of class, political, and cultural identity. Nash’s work operates more directly in the field of memory, recalling things he saw and actions he took growing up in southeastern Texas. False idealism and the desire to create and define the human relationship to nature, the landscape, and our own built environment are at the heart of the often disturbing grisaille paintings of Friese Undine, and graphite works by Kimi Weart, while in the watercolors of Aaron Morse and the graphite drawings of Eric Beltz we find an engagement with and critique of our dearly held myths of the past. In their widely divergent ways, each of these artists problematizes what it means to live in our nation, in our present moment.