Sunday, July 23, 2006

Charles Sheeler @ NGA

Last weekend I went to Washington DC. One of the shows that I saw was Charles Sheeler: Across Media. It was at the National Gallery of Art. The show runs from May 7th to August 27, 2006. The Sheeler show was especially interesting because it explored the relationship between Sheeler’s photography and his graphic work and paintings. Photography played a very critical role in Sheeler’s work. Interestingly enough, Sheeler’s dealer Edith Halpert, felt that his painting was much more important than his photography. She wanted to downplay the role that photography took in Sheeler’s paintings because, she feared, that if people knew about the photogaphs his paintings and graphic work would’t be taken seriously.

Sheeler studied at the School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia from 1900 to 1902. He then studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1909 he went to Paris and was exposed to Picasso and other European modernists. So Sheeler really started out as a painter. Sheeler go into photography around 1910 as a way to support his painting. He became friendly with the photographers Morton Schamberg and Paul Strand. In 1917 Sheeler and Morton Schamberg rented house in the Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Some of the photographs that Sheeler took in Doylestown were then turn into drawings and paintings. The Upstairs of 1938 and Interior with Stove of 1932 are examples of Sheeler’s painting and graphic works that are based on his photographs..

Something that I had not known and all was that around 1920 Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler made a movie called Manhatta. The 11 minute film was shown in London in 1927 and the was lost until the 1950s. The film is shown inthe exhibition. The movie starts out with a scene of people coming off the Staten Island Ferry and landing on Manhattan Island. Many of the images in the movie are reminiscent of photos that Sheeler and Strand had taken. The movie takes its title from a poem by Walt Whitman of the same name. Lines from the poem are used as caption for many of the scenes in the film.

The most remarkable work in the show is the Sheeler’s painting The Artist Looks at Nature from 1943. It is owned by the Art Institue of Chicago. The painting shows Sheeler sitting at an easel working on a drawing that is based on one of Sheeler’s photographs. As the brochure for the exhibition explains “The painting can be understood as autobiographical and records how his explorations across various media defined and complicated his artistic identity.”