by NATHANIEL NELSON
The Minnesota Marine Art Museum has a new exhibit open, but you won’t be seeing anything of the Mississippi or the Great Lakes this time around. “This is New York” features 16 works from artists throughout the centuries as they depict the commercial and cultural capital of the United States.
“It has a strong focus — it’s a geographic exhibition,” said MMAM Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Jon Swanson, “and everyone has their own New York story.”
According to Swanson, the exhibit came into being following two recent acquisitions: “View of Central Park” by Charles Sheeler and “East River Waterfront, c. 1662,” by contemporary artists Len Tantillo.
Sheeler’s graphite drawing “View of Central Park” was made for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, whose name is on the signature, and depicts the New York City skyline and park from her office. Kept in the Rockefeller family for generations, Swanson said, MMAM acquired the work earlier this year and officially unveiled it back in September.
That same day, a commissioned piece by Tantillo titled “East River Waterfront, c. 1662” was also unveiled. It depicts the Hudson Bay during the Dutch colonial period, when New York City was founded by Dutch businessmen as an important trade hub for the New World. Tantillo is known for his extensive historical research, including studying letters, maps, and historical records, which Swanson said is evident in his pre-industrial depiction of the the New York harbor.
“We had two strong New York-themed images, and we looked at the permanent collection and found plenty of options,” Swanson said.
Another staple piece in the exhibition is a watercolor study of the Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella from 1922, as he was working on a five-piece painting titled “The Voice of the City of New York Interpreted.”
“Stella was almost obsessed with the Brooklyn Bridge,” Swanson said. “He saw it as both gothic and modern. He painted it many, many times, sometimes as stained glass and sometimes acrylic.”
Other artists included in the exhibition include John Stobart, Jack Gray, Tim Thompson, Dusan Kadlec, Roy Cross, and John George Brown.
But why New York? According to Swanson, it’s all about the harbor.
“If you look at any great city in history, it has a good harbor. The only way to move goods and people was harborage,” Swanson said, citing Ellis Island and the trade boom from the early years of the U.S. “MMAM is focused on great art inspired by water — not necessarily the Mississippi. [This exhibition is] about looking at artists react through history and globally to one specific place.”
The pieces range from contemporary paintings like Tantillo and Gray, to modern art from the early 1900s, and some pieces tracing back to the 19th century. Though this exhibition, Swanson said, he hopes that attendees will see both the importance of harbors in society, and how they spur on cultural and financial growth, but also to showcase how different artists see one location in different ways.
“Everyone has their personal New York stories, whether it is about themselves or their grandparents,” Swanson said, “and this series is about those different interpretations.”
“This is New York” is on display now through February 28 at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum at 800 Riverview Drive in Winona, Minn. The museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and admission is $7 for adults, $3 for students and free for children under the age of four. For more information on “This is New York” and other current exhibitions, contact MMAM at 507-474-6626.