Museums Shine In Connecticut
by J. Fatima Martins
The New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA, 1903) and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (1842) recently reopened after major building renovations and expansions, followed by reinstallation of their collections and exhibitions. Both institutions look spectacular. In this review I reveal my favorite works of art at each, a surprise even to myself. So, keep reading.
The Wadsworth is the oldest continually operating public art museum in the United States, while the NBMAA is the first museum in the country dedicated to the development of American art. Coincidental similarities between the two include large-scale murals by Connecticut native Sol LeWitt as prominent decorative features in the entrance lobby areas: “Whirls and Twirls (2004)” at the Wadsworth and “Scribbles (2005)” at NBMAA.
Both institutions also feature amusing photorealist sculptures as part of their permanent contemporary offerings: Marc Sijan’s “Security Guard (2006),” functions as the museum’s mascot and welcomes visitors to NBMAA. At Wadsworth, Duane Hanson’s subversive “Sunbather (1971),” lounges within the glow of Andy Warhol’s pop art “Early Colored Jackie (1964)” and against the backdrop of Robert Rauschenberg’s “Retroactive, I (1964),” a portrait of President Kennedy.
The NBMAA is recognized as the first museum to collect Post-Contemporary (PoCo) art, with figurative realist allegory “The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy: September 11, 2001” by Graydon Parrish as the establishing work within the movement on permanent display. The focus on contemporary figurative realism continues with its “Stone Roberts: Street Scenes, Still Life and Figures” exhibition, on view until January 17, 2016.
Another significant aspect of the NBMAA is the manner in which curators have created dialogue between the contemporary and historic collections. Older paintings are given a fresh viewpoint, while the contemporary works are given cultural legitimacy.