Art deco—the style of
the flapper, the luxury ocean liner, and the skyscraper—came to
epitomize the glamour, luxury, and hedonism of the Jazz Age. After
bursting onto the world stage, it quickly swept the globe,
influencing everything from architecture to interior design, fashion
jewelry, and radios. Above all, it became the style of the pleasure
palaces of the age—hotels, nightclubs, and movie theaters.
in 1842 in Hartford, Connecticut, the Wadsworth Atheneum is one of the oldest
continually operating public museums in the country. Undermined by debt and
crumbling building, it almost ceases to be. Museum Director Susan Talbott pulled the institution out of the abyss as part of a $33 million
The Museum’s collection ranges from the decorative arts to old masters
and the Hudson River School, from impressionism to most of modernism and
the sometimes still shockingly new. After a complete overall, the
Wadsworth Atheneum now boasts 17 new galleries, adding 27 percent more
space, achieved by moving all storage to the basement.
The Museum was the first American museum to mount a Picasso
retrospective and the first to buy a Mondrian. Talbott indicates a
portion of ceiling in her office. It is an extension, above it a "tiny
little gallery that was an electrical closet, now a boudoir to show off
our 18th-century silver. Those are the little things, the jewels," she
Atheneum contains larger treasures. Willem de Kooning's Montauk I and
Jackson Pollock's Number 9 are among a collection of abstract
expressionism part-donated by Tony Smith and now shown with his
sculptures. Curator Patricia Hickson's contemporary wing is organised
like a generous primer: Robert Rauschenberg and Cindy Sherman share
space with a beautiful and disturbing work by an Iraqi-American, Ahmed
Alsoudani, spun from the aftermath of a Baghdad car bomb. There is also
room for video, currently the hour-long STREET by James Nares, a
hypnotic portrait of hypermodern Manhattan life.
Upstairs, past wall drawings by Hertford native Sol LeWitt, Robin Jaffee
Frank's Coney Island exhibition collects high and low art, ephemera and
carousel horses, all to tell the story of the Brooklyn pleasure resort
from the Civil War to the modern day. A Joseph Stella from 1914 - Battle
of Lights, Coney Island, Mardi Gras - explodes from the wall, the polite
cubo-futurism of Severini or Nevinson shoved through a particle
accelerator. After that, the show is a blast.
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