Town and Country: Urban and Rural Scenes from the Racine Art Museum Collection

Whether documenting city life or responding to the awe-inspiring qualities of nature, artists constantly revisit the subject of their surroundings. Open through April 11, 2010, “Town and Country: Urban and Rural Scenes from RAM’s Collection” features selected artworks from the Racine Art Museum’s permanent collection that provide a lively sampling of different points of view expressed by nearly 100 individuals portraying the world around them. Presenting pieces created from 1930 to the present, this show demonstrates interpretations artists have of nature’s grandeur and humanity’s achievements in creating urban environments as well as RAM’s breadth of collection holdings.

Jeffrey BlakeSome images of the landscape are intimate studies that approach scientific examinations, while others show how artists use this subject to make ecological statements. The artists’ approaches to depicting the landscape often demonstrate changing views about nature through history—benevolent, threatening, triumphant, endangered. For many years, paintings and drawings have also served as records of tourism and exploration—both real and imaginary.

Urban areas are also rich sources of inspiration. Cities are tremendous achievements. They place large numbers of diverse people into close proximity to each other. The exhibition features a number of artists who use urban imagery to comment on social issues and the human interactions that occur in this setting. Some of these works capture what it was like to live in specific places under certain conditions, while others tell the viewer more about the artist, based on the message and point of view used in the work.

Pieces from RAM’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) collection figure prominently in this exhibition, particularly in the images of city life. The museum’s collection includes numerous examples of works created by artists living in New York City, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, who captured images of their own backyard. Many of these urban images from the WPA works fit within the Social Realism movement of the time, which depicts social and racial injustice, and economic hardship, through unvarnished pictures of life’s struggles. The upcoming RAM exhibition “Great Art from Tough Times: Wisconsin WPA Artworks in RAM’s Collection”, opening on January 24, will provide a further glimpse of works created during the program.

“Town and Country” ties in with the “Watercolor Wisconsin” exhibition currently on display at RAM’s Wustum Museum. The watercolor show is an annual, statewide competition for artists working in water-based painting media. It was inaugurated by the museum and the Junior League of Racine in 1966 as a showcase for this popular medium. Since then, it has developed into a regular survey of the many approaches artists take to painting on paper as a serious fine art medium. This juried exhibition contributes directly to RAM’s mission to collect works on paper, and present them alongside works in contemporary crafts media.

The museum’s works on paper feature drawings, prints, photographs and watercolors, many of which were obtained from past Watercolor Wisconsin exhibitions. Through gifts and memorials, RAM purchases works from each annual competition as documentation of the advancements occurring in this field. “Town and Country” features many examples of artwork that the museum has acquired in this manner. A number of artists who are included in this year’s watercolor competition as well as in the exhibition “Town and Country” include: Amy Arntson, JoAnna Poehlmann, Lance Raichert, George Ronsholdt, Jan Serr, Lee Weiss and John Wickenberg.

Visitors are also encouraged to drop by Wustum Museum, just two miles from RAM downtown, to tour “Watercolor Wisconsin 2009” for additional examples of works with landscape and cityscape subject matter. There, they will discover figurative, floral and still life pieces alongside abstract compositions, created by 87 regional artists.

The Racine Art Museum is one of North America’s most significant contemporary craft museums. Its focus is on work from internationally recognized artists in ceramics, fibers, glass, metals and wood, as well as painting, sculpture and works on paper.

Image: Jeffrey Blake Jessie Shingle, 1988 Ektacolor print Racine Art Museum, Museum Purchase