Mostly drawn from the museum’s collection, Let Me Show You What I Saw features works by artists who used time of day, season, weather, lighting and shadows to trigger suggestive moods, tones and atmospheres. The exhibition looks at the way in which the artists infused their scenes with qualities that suggest the presence of feelings and forces. The views are by and large initially appealing, but almost all imply natural and sometimes supernatural phenomena meant to provoke the viewer.
Charles Burchfield’s visionary watercolors of rural landscapes inspired the exhibition. Five of his works, recently acquired by the DIA, will be displayed for the first time along with prints by his colleagues John Marin, Martin Lewis and Saul Steinberg, among many others. These artists worked at a time of great transition in American art and were at the core of a movement that brought personal sensibilities into the realm of acceptable subject matter. The era from about WWI through the mid-20th century brought new visual perspectives not just to prints and drawings, but to all media. Many artists began to create increasingly abstract views in place of the realistic depictions that dominated the past.
Burchfield, who was passionately devoted to nature, pioneered watercolor techniques and invented symbols to convey emotions and sensations. Elements of nature seem to communicate and move with each other in his watercolors that depict the various seasons. Marin brought to life the dynamism in both country and city scenes, as can be seen in the colorful New Mexican Landscape Near Taos and Woolworth Building, which seems to sway to the rhythms of the city. Lewis was captivated by the mysteries of the night and roamed the streets of New York to find a fascinating world of shadows that enliven his compositions. His print Shadow Magic features angular shadows looming over a couple, child and cat walking along a quiet city street at night. The DIA commissioned 24 pen and ink drawings in 1949 from Steinberg that were used to create a mural and to illustrate the catalogue for the DIA exhibition For Modern Living. The whimsical drawings show scenes of modern, everyday life at home and in the big city
This exhibition has been organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Image Caption: Peace at Christmas, Charles Burchfield, 1917/1947, watercolor,
gouache, graphite and/or charcoal. Detroit Institute of Arts