Exhibition Dates:

May 23–September 6, 2015
Gallery C

Auburn collectors Bob Ekelund and Mark Thornton share a passion for art, one that is eclectic in taste, inclusive, and celebratory of the human spirit. Ekelund’s earlier and longtime study of modern Mexican art has gradually given way to a new focus on American art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries––the period when this young nation began to find its own confident voice in the world. American artists at the turn of the century made a collective turn from emulating European modes to exploring and forging new indigenous idioms. Of course, the melting pot of cultures that composed the United States ensured that the search for modern native expression would take many paths, and be rich and vibrant and contradictory. The American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892) referred to this capacious nature of American society in his preface to Leaves of Grass, describing its rugged, generous, fierce, spiritual, and noble citizenry. He proclaimed, “Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature.” America is itself “the greatest poem.”

The Ekelund/Thornton collection reflects in many ways Whitman’s vision, through examples by George Inness and Gustave Baumann that depict the transcendent beauty of our diverse landscape, to images by George Bellows and Edward Hopper that draw attention to the common man, and compositions by artists ranging from Winslow Homer to Arthur Dove that trace a transition from realism to abstraction. Drawn from the collectors’ wider holdings, The Greatest Poem presents an intimate selection of works that illustrate, as Whitman described it, “the great psalm of the republic.”