Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection

Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR

PORTLAND ART MUSEUM, Portland OR - To April 28, 2019
by Allyn Cantor
Drawn from the revered permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, this exhibition of 70 paintings and sculptural works from the 1910s to the 1980s includes a broad range of work by preeminent artists such as Arthur Dove, Wolf Kahn, Jacob Lawrence, Will Barnet and Yasuo Kuniyoshi. The pieces on exhibit are just some of those gifted to the Smithsonian by the Sara Roby Foundation.
Sara Roby (1907-1986) began her foundation in the 1950s and over the next 30 years she developed a premier collection of works by leading figurative artists like Edward Hopper, Paul Cadmus and their contemporaries. In 1959 the first exhibition featuring artwork from the foundation opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. It was the start of a 25-year exhibition program that circulated works from the foundation to museums throughout the country.
At a time when Abstract Expressionism was celebrated and action painting was the current trend, Roby continued to champion realism and works of art founded in the principles of form and design. She also embraced modernity, and her approach to collecting included mid-century abstract styles like Stuart Davis’ colorfully spirited paintings and Louise Nevelson’s monochromatic wood assemblages that recall both urban and natural forms. Mark Tobey and Morris Graves represent the Northwest School in this exhibition, which encompasses a wide definition of modern realism – from attitudes of post World War II optimism to complex psychological and satirical scenes to works that lean toward the surreal and expressive.

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