During the fall semester, Auburn University advanced Art History students in Dr. Emily Burns’s class “Art of the United States” organized two exhibitions curated from JCSM’s permanent collection. Under the guidance of Dr. Burns and museum staff, the students determined conceptual themes, wrote didactic texts, and assisted in gallery design and other logistics of mounting a museum exhibition. The results of their efforts are presented here in two consecutive installations.
The American City: Tourists and Denizens
The American city is a fundamental component of the American experience. People travel from far and near to experience its skyscraper vistas and vibrant streets buzzing with life. The city beckons newcomers to partake in its expanding center of knowledge, civilization, and opportunity. To the urban citizen, the city represents more than a tourist attraction; it signifies a way of life, continuous effort, and competition for resources and for success.
The American City: Tourists and Denizens captures the spirit of travel to and within the city in the twentieth century. As a visitor, you are transported from the perspective of an inexperienced tourist seeing the city in its idealized grandeur for the first time, leisurely taking in the new sights. Such artworks often show the city from a distance or from aerial street views of iconic and alluring urban landscape, such as Martin Lewis’s Passing Storm or Yvonne Jacquette’s Motion Picture (Times Square). You also identify, however, with the everyday citizen surviving in the metropolis they call home, hurriedly navigating the swarming masses just to be on time for work. This perspective is exemplified in ground-level street scenes such as Frank Kleinholz’s Bank Night or William Castellana’s Boys on Bicycle/Lee Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
A population comparison emphasizes the growing centrality of the city in US culture. Just after American independence, urban areas could only boast 5% of the nation’s population, while by the 1920s, urban citizens were the population’s majority. As the city’s population increased, so did its diversification. Millions of immigrants from all over the world flocked to the city’s promise of opportunity and by the twentieth century, half of New York’s population was foreign born.
The stylistic differences and array of media in this exhibition invite you to consider the diversity of the urban experience. Whether through a photograph, a colorful print, or an expressive painting, each artwork expresses a unique perspective of the city and seeks to transport the viewer into the imagined scene. Images of tourism, travel, and cultural icons in our exhibition invite you to journey into the city through sensory experience. Let us take you on a tour of the American city.