Addison Gallery of American Art in Massachusetts asks, ‘What is America?’

The Addison Gallery of American Art on the campus of Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, reopened to the public on October 17 with new programming drawing from the breadth of its collection to explore the museum’s guiding question: What Is America? 

The Addison is one of the oldest institutions dedicated to American art and has one of the most significant collections of American art in the world, providing unparalleled resources to both students and the public.

The following exhibitions will be on view this fall.

  • Wayfinding: Contemporary Artists, Critical Dialogues, and the Sidney R. Knafel Map Collection presents provocative new work by six contemporary artists inspired by Phillips Academy’s remarkable holding of maps, globes, and atlases that explore how land has been claimed, constructed, and reconfigured throughout history;
  • Robert Frank: The Americans displays in its entirety Robert Frank’s timeless and timely study of the United States, comprising eighty-three carefully sequenced photographs that capture a nation in the throes of social, political, and economic transitions in the 1950s. The Addison is one of only four museums in the world to own a complete set of this seminalseries;
  • Currents/Crosscurrents: American Art 1850–1950 places iconic works from the Addison’s collection by artists such as Ruth Asawa, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock in dialogue with the works of their lesser known contemporaries to give a more holistic and nuanced glimpse into a century of creative expression in America;
  • To Make Visible: Art and Activism, 1980–2000 examines the work of artists who weaponized their artistic practices in order to hold a mirror up to the injustices of their time, to combat apathy, and provoke change; and
  • An Incomplete History of Photography: 1860s to 1960s draws works from the Addison’s exceptional photography collection to highlight key artists and moments in the development of the medium and watershed moments in American history.

In addition to the above exhibitions, fourteen photographs by Roy DeCarava chronicling everyday life in Harlem in the 1950s will be on view in the museum’s first floor Exhibition Hall.

“Posing the fundamental question—What is America?—has never been more vital than it is today,” said Allison Kemmerer, the interim director of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Mead Curator of Photography, and senior curator of contemporary art. “As a museum of American art, the Addison is in a unique position to tell stories that amplify multiple voices and diverse points of view with exhibitions that reevaluate the art historical canon and call into question underlying assumptions about the country and who we are as a nation. The Addison is thrilled to reopen its doors to the public and we very much look forward to welcoming everyone back to our museum.”

Robert Frank, ‘Trolley—New Orleans,’ from ‘The Americans,’ neg. 1955–56, print 1989.
Gelatin silver print. Museum purchase, 1989.77.18

“Robert Frank: The Americans,” on view through April 11, 2021, stands out. First published in France in 1958 and in the United States in 1959—in the midst of the Cold War—Robert Frank’s The Americans is among the most influential photography books of the 20th century. The Addison is one of only four museums in the world to own a complete set of the images from this volume.

Frank’s dark and grainy images are the work of an outsider looking in and reveal his ambivalence toward his adopted country. The eighty-three carefully sequenced photographs that appeared in The Americans, edited down from more than twenty-seven thousand images, are raw documentation of a country in transition. They celebrate its strengths as an emerging superpower while exposing the cracks in the veneer of optimism and opportunity that defined its postwar culture. More than a revelation of a specific moment in American history, The Americans is a work of resonance that probes the defining and enduring dualities of American life and culture—hope and despair, affluence and want, freedom and limitation, community and isolation.

The new hours for public visits are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 1 – 5 p.m. on Sunday. Detailed information about visiting and reserved ticketing is available on the Addison’s website, www.addisongallery.org.

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