American artist Winslow Homer is best known for his dramatic seascape paintings of fishermen and rescuers battling the harsh maritime elements. But a major new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art aims to delve much deeper into the artist’s rich and varied life, as well as the lesser-known themes and themes he has explored.
Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents aims to rethink the artist’s work “through the lens of conflict,” according to the museum. It features 88 paintings, including many from the museum’s own collection, as well as around 65 loans from institutions and private collections.
Viewers will be surprised to learn in this cleverly organized show that the artist painted many images of the Civil War and Reconstruction, including depictions of its impact on the landscape, soldiers and formerly enslaved people.
“This is an important show by one of America’s most important artists,” Met director Max Hollein said at a press preview last week. “Not only did Homer deal with complex social and political issues, but so does his work also about universal concerns: the fragility of human life and the dominance of nature.
“By focusing on the theme of conflict in Homer’s art, this exhibition presents a new understanding of his in-depth approach to depicting race, nature and the environment.”
The heart of the show is The Gulf Stream (1899; revised by 1906), is considered one of Homer’s most important works and one of the first to be included in the Met’s collection.
The painting depicts a lone black man in a small boat on a turbulent sea threatened by sharks circling the mastless boat.
While some have interpreted it as brooding over mortality after his father’s death, according to the museum, the painting “also alludes to the legacy of slavery and American imperialism, as well as broader concerns.”
Sylvia Yount, who co-organized the show with Stephanie Herdrich, said discussions about the show dated back to the summer of 2020, which was marked by racial justice protests in the US and around the world.
The protests “made our specific approach to Homer all the more relevant as we all reckon with our complex history and its resulting legacies,” Yount said. “Homer’s deeply humanistic art has appealed to generations differently, and we feel our exploration of the darker undercurrents and the tension between emotion and struggle gives the production a decided reverberation our viewers today.”
Yount and Herdrich add an interesting and timely twist to the show with a coda selection of works contemporary artists such as Elizabeth Columba, Hugh Hayden, Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker responding The Gulf Stream and other Homer works.
A gallery includes five works on paper from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis for gulf stream (2003), Marshall’s reinterpretation of Homer’s canvas.
Marshall’s image “transforms Homer’s dramatic composition, with its uncertain ending, into what it calls an ‘allegory of liberation,’ which rejects black trauma in favor of black joy,” the museum said in a statement.
Brooklyn-based artist Hugh Hayden, whose work Brier patch was shown at Madison Square Park earlier this year, met Homer’s The Gulf Stream although Marshall’s revision.
Adapting the theme through his own vision, the artist’s three-dimensional sailing ship has 12 ribs and evokes a sea serpent, representing both danger and redemption.
Also on display is a large diptych by Walker entitled The crossroad (2017), which provides an answer to both homers The Gulf Stream and Emmanuel Leutzes Washington crosses the Delaware by grappling with the realities of a precarious ship of state.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest news, insightful interviews and incisive critical statements that drive the conversation.