New American Art at the Huntington

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What a perfect time of year to visit the Huntington. Lotus are in bloom at the Chinese Pavilion, roses are out in full, and there are equal delights inside the newly expanded Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. The additional 5,400 square feet of attractive, understated galleries is now dedicated to a compelling showing of their familiar 18th, 19th and 20th century works along with new acquisitions, such as Lattice and Awning (1941) by Arthur Dove, thought to be the only work by that artist in a public collection in LA. Thanks to the bequest of the late art dealer Robert Shapazian, one gallery features two works by Andy Warhol including a Brillo Box as well as new sculpture and painting by Tony Smith, purchased with funds donated in Shapazian’s memory. It is all part of an attempt to tell the story of American Art from the 19th century to the late 20th century that culminates, for now, with Robert Rauschenberg’s Global Loft (Spread) (1979), now exhibited in its own gallery with a number of his prints on loan from the Rauschenberg Foundation, part of a new and ongoing program of loans.

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Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), Global Loft (Spread), 1979, solvent transfer on fabric and paper collage to wooden panels with acrylic paint, three metal brushes, 96 × 111 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © The Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York.

The decorative arts, a great strength of the Huntington collections, are integrated carefully into the new presentation. One gallery entrance has been remodeled so that you enter to face a leaded glass window by George Washington Maher that gives onto the Husser House dining table and chairs by Frank Lloyd Wright, now on a lowered platform to emulate the actual feeling of being in a dining area. Paintings enhance the ambiance.

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Edward Henry Weston (1886-1958) Oceano, California, 1936, silver print mounted on board, 9 1/2 × 7 7/16 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. © 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents.

While exhibiting work from the Huntington collections, the curators, including Jessica Todd Smith, and Director of the Art Collections Kevin Salatino brought in some stunning loans by artists including Alma Thomas, Henrietta Shore, Lee Mullican and Ed Ruscha. These paintings help expand the story of American art at the Huntington and one hopes that some of them will remain as generous gifts.

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Robert S. Duncanson (1821-1872), Landscape with Ruin, ca.1853, oil on canvas, 32 × 44 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Diversity did not go amiss when considering choices in the new galleries. Recent donations by well known author Bram Dijkstra and his literary agent wife Sandra Dijkstra helped the cause. The lovely Landscape with Ruins (ca. 1853) by the 19th century African American artist Robert Seldon Duncanson is exhibited with the luminous paintings of peers such as Frederic Edwin Church. Duncanson is not a familiar name today but in his time, he was associated with Hudson River School painters and when traveling in Europe, sold a picture to the King of Sweden. (The Dijkstras also donated powerful work by the African American realist and influential L.A. teacher, Charles White.)

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Arthur Dove (1880-1946), Lattice and Awning, 1941, oil on canvas, 22 × 36 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

In addition, a selection of the 500 photographs that Edward Weston himself printed for his donation to the Huntington are shown in a way that they can be seen in context with other artists of his time including his friend Henrietta Shore. The Huntington recently purchased her stunning drawing Cypress Trees, Point Lobos c. 1930-33.

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Henrietta Shore (1880-1963), Cypress Tree, Point Lobos, ca. 1930-1933, colored crayon on paper, 18 1/2 × 14 1/4 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

The entire presentation leaves little doubt that the Huntington, known for its impressive collection of British art — the famed Blue Boy and Pinkie — hopes to gain similar respect for its American art. To that end, American Made: Highlights from The Huntington Art Collections, published with Delmonico Prestel, provides a marvelous overview and furthers the cause.

As I said, what a perfect time to visit the Huntington. For more information go to