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Wyeth Foundation for American Art Programs


Andrew Wyeth, Maine, 1981. © Bruce Weber

Established in 2003, the Wyeth Foundation for American Art lectures, conferences, and symposia are biennial programs hosted by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art, and supported by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. Participants are chosen on the basis of their outstanding contributions to the study of and scholarship on American art.

Wyeth Symposia in American Art

December 4–11, 2020
Feminism in American Art History


Unidentified artist, Flora, c. 1796–1820, cut paper on millboard with pen and brown ink, 14 x 13 in. Stratford Historical Society, Stratford, CT

Presentations by Kirsten Pai Buick, Aruna D’Souza, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, Lisa Farrington, Jessica Horton, Jenny Lin, Helen Molesworth, and Jennifer Van Horn.

Program (PDF 610KB)

March 16–17, 2017
The African American Art World in Twentieth-Century Washington, DC

Scarlet-red dashes create loose vertical lines against a bright white background that fill this vertical abstract painting. Most of the dashes are vertical but some slant at an angle. The artist signed and dated the work with white paint in the lower right corner, “AWT 73.”

Alma Thomas, Red Rose Cantata, 1973, acrylic on canvas, Gift of Vincent Melzac, 1976.6.1

Speakers included Rhea L. Combs, Gwendolyn H. Everett, Paul Gardullo, Tuliza Fleming, Jacqueline Francis, Lauren Haynes, Amy Kirschke, Robert G. O'Meally, Richard J. Powell,  Jacquelyn D. Serwer, Elsa Smithgall, Jeffrey C. Stewart, John A. Tyson, and Tobias Wofford. Session moderators were Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Charles Brock, and Huey Copeland. The symposium also featured a panel of artists moderated by Ruth Fine and including Lilian Thomas Burwell, Floyd Coleman, David C. Driskell, Sam Gilliam, Keith A. Morrison, Martin Puryear, Sylvia Snowden, and Lou Stovall.

Program (PDF 433KB)

Artist Panel
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William Michael Harnett, The Old Violin, 18861886

William Michael Harnett, The Old Violin, 1886, oil on canvas, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Mellon Scaife in honor of Paul Mellon, 1993.15.1

October 19, 2018
The American Still Life

This conference considers the genre of still life in American art in various media including painting, sculpture, photography, and printmaking. Papers address works that range in time from the colonial period to the present day. Speakers include Maggie Cao, Nika Elder, Ellery Foutch, Diana Greenwald, Shana Klein, Ashley Lazevnick, Mark Mitchell, and Amy Werbel.

Program (PDF 421KB)

Wyeth Lectures in American Art

Art Is an Excuse: Conceptual Strategies, 1968–1983
Kellie Jones, Columbia University


Senga Nengudi (right) and Maren Hassinger (left), Flying, 1982 Performance, Los Angeles. African American Performance Art Archive

This lecture is based on a book in progress that looks at international conceptual art networks and the making of global community in the late twentieth century.

The dematerialized framework of conceptual art engaged systems theory, which gained currency in the 1960s.  Involving information-based technologies and the impact on labor, such schemas made conceptual art legible as artistic practice, particularly its iterations as interaction or performance, which all but replaced objects as art. Systems theory was also seen in the idea of interrelation as part of a living ecosystem, composed through the interdependence of human beings worldwide.

The larger project encompasses art incorporating language and text along with multimedia installations that charted the annihilation of the traditional object. The lecture singles out performance art, which brought focus to the temporal as a reaffirmation of human existence. A piece could be "placed" anywhere and everywhere and unfolded in the here and now. These characteristics allowed performance to be dispersed effortlessly into the flow of everyday life as spectacle or political act. The lecture will consider moments in the global reach of performance art in the 1970s in locales from Mexico City to London to Los Angeles, considering projects by artists including Felipe Ehrenberg, Lourdes Grobet, Adrian Piper, Senga Nengudi, and David Lamelas.

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The Panorama and the Globe: Expanding the American Landscape in World War II
Cécile Whiting, University of California, Irvine

Thomas Hart Benton, Corn and Winter Wheat, 19481948

Thomas Hart Benton, Corn and Winter Wheat, 1948, oil on canvas, Gift (Partial and Promised) of Helen Lee Henderson in memory of Helen Ruth Henderson, Founder, HRH Foundation, 2001.122.1

During World War II, maps that pictured troops advancing and retreating across national borders, along with photographs and newsreels documenting death and destruction in locations around the world (including the naval base of Pearl Harbor, the tropical rain forests of Guadalcanal, and the beaches of North Africa), prompted a change in painted representations of landscape in the United States. Cécile Whiting's research focuses on how American artists recast the terms of landscape painting as it had been practiced in the 1930s, broadening its scope from the local to the international and from the pastoral to the antipastoral. The lecture analyzes the ways in which artists depicted landscapes joining the national and the international. In particular, it examines paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, who adopted a panoramic mode, literally and metaphorically widening the horizontal scope of their paintings to encompass both the United States and Europe. As a counterpoint, it discusses The Rock, the painting in which Peter Blume attempted to fit the globe into his landscape.

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The Art of the Name: Soldiers, Graves, and Monuments in the Aftermath of the Civil War
Kirk Savage, University of Pittsburgh


Soldiers' Lot at Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1874–1927. Photo: Kirk Savage

On a scale unprecedented in U.S. history, the Civil War led to a massive physical displacement of bodies in life and in death. Equally if not more troubling, however, the war caused a shocking metaphysical displacement of bodies from their names, creating legions of the “unknown” (bodies without names) and the “missing” (names without bodies). This lecture examines how art was invoked and deployed to come to terms with what Savage calls the "metadata crisis" of the war dead. One side of the story is the long postwar effort to reattach names to bodies, which had far-reaching impacts on the American landscape, generating a national cemetery system and revolutionizing the gravestone industry. The other side of the story is the deliberate detachment of names from bodies and the innovation of ever-longer lists of names in bronze and stone that would eventually culminate in the enigmatic abstraction of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At once material and immaterial, the art of the name provides a lens through which to plumb the transformations in personal and national identity wrought by the catastrophe of mass warfare. 


Reversing American Art
Jennifer L. Roberts, Harvard University

Jasper Johns, Zigmunds Priede, Universal Limited Art Editions, Hand, 19631963

Jasper Johns, Zigmunds Priede, Universal Limited Art Editions, Hand, 1963, lithograph in black on Japan paper, Gift of Tom Levine, 2002.54.1

This lecture explores one of the fundamental operations of printmaking—reversal—in order to trace its impact on American art across a spectrum of media. Behind every print lies a matrix (from the Latin for mother): a plate or block or stone or screen from which the print has been "pulled." And in most printing processes, the final print is a reversed version of the matrix. Although reversal may seem at first to be a simple geometrical switching operation, its material and philosophical complexity is profound; indeed, one may posit a kind of "negative intelligence" that informs any work of art that deploys reversal. Given its status as the result of contact between surfaces and its connection to symmetry, orientation, and handedness, reversal creates its own poetics of bodily experience. Inasmuch as the reverse lurks as the invisible "other side" of any form. It is often coincident with mystery or secrecy. In its close association with reproduction, reversal informs thinking about patterning, generation, and fecundity. And it embodies critique, negation, and the visualization of alternative dimensions and forms.

To focus on reversal is to open up new ways of thinking about connections among the fine, decorative, and industrial arts in America, not least because so many prominent American artists from the eighteenth through the twentieth century had backgrounds in print and printmaking. "Apprenticed as an engraver"; "trained as a lithographer"; "found initial success as a commercial artist": such are the typical preludes of American artists' biographies. A rigorous analysis of reversal offers an opportunity to expand the adventure of print from the preludes into the main narratives of the stories we tell about American art. The lecture addresses reversal in several contexts, from the nature prints of Joseph Breintnall in the 1730s to the handprints of Jasper Johns in the 1960s, with a core focus on the later nineteenth century in the work of James McNeill Whistler and the American trompe-l'oeil painters.


Between the Lines: Philip Guston and “Bad Painting”
Bryan J. Wolf, Stanford University

Philip Guston, Rug, 19761976

Philip Guston, Rug, 1976, oil on canvas, Gift of Edward R. Broida, 2005.142.19

In the years between 1967 and 1970, Philip Guston scandalized the New York art world by renouncing abstraction and turning instead to figurative modes of painting characterized by cartoonish images that mixed Ku Klux Klan hoods, idioms of popular culture, and a private vocabulary of cigars, light bulbs, legs, shoes, and other assorted—and often hairy—body parts. Buried within these often outlandish works are three recurring concerns: questions of pilgrimage, revelation, and epiphany that link Guston to Hudson River School painting of the nineteenth century; a covert interest in writing as a cultural logic that informs his painting practices; and an obsessive focus on line that distinguishes his art from the drips and gestural forms of Jackson Pollock. Ultimately, each of these concerns points to what can be seen as the real focus of Guston’s figurative work: the history and memory of the Holocaust.


Minstrelsy “Uncorked”: Thomas Eakins’ Empathetic Realism
Richard J. Powell, Duke University

Thomas Eakins, Study for

Thomas Eakins, Study for "Negro Boy Dancing": The Banjo Player, probably 1877, oil on canvas on cardboard, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1985.64.16

The lecture focuses on Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) as uniquely empathetic among the many 19th-century artists who depicted African American performance and entertainment. Eakins’ Negro Boy Dancing (1887; Metropolitan Museum of Art) shows a young banjo player, an elderly teacher, and an adolescent dancer, evoking the American rage for the form of musical theater known as minstrelsy. Eakins' watercolor, along with two oil-on-board studies at the National Gallery of Art, challenged the tendency of minstrelsy to employ racial ridicule and physical exaggeration. Instead, Powell argues, Eakins adhered to a painterly realism as well as his own brand of empathy and ethics.


Ground Swell: Edward Hopper in 1939
Alexander Nemerov, Yale University (now at Stanford University)

Edward Hopper, Ground Swell, 19391939

Edward Hopper, Ground Swell, 1939, oil on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund), 2014.79.23

Edward Hopper’s paintings often show people and places in states of enigmatic isolation, loneliness, and contemplation. These are among the fabled Hopper themes—so fabled it would hardly seem possible to go beyond them to give another account of his art. Focusing on one Hopper painting, Ground Swell of 1939, the lecture tries to provide a thicker, denser, more surprising story of what it meant for Hopper to make a painting, especially in the year 1939. The lecture was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Edward Hopper.


Thomas Eakins and the “Grand Manner” Portrait
Kathleen A. Foster, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Thomas Eakins, Archbishop Diomede Falconio, 19051905

Thomas Eakins, Archbishop Diomede Falconio, 1905, oil on canvas, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, 1946.16.1

Codified in the late eighteenth century as a full-length, life-size portrait with impressive costume and attributes of rank and identity, the Grand Manner portrait evolved in the nineteenth century to suit the status-consciousness of a new, bourgeois era. Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), born and educated in Philadelphia and trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, absorbed the conventions of Grand Manner portraiture from baroque Spanish and Dutch works, from the English tradition of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Gilbert Stuart, and from the new naturalism of contemporary French art. Returning from Europe to Philadelphia in 1870, he launched a career as a figure painter that was, as Elizabeth Johns has argued, based on portraiture in many guises.

Eakins painted about two hundred fifty finished portraits in his lifetime (apart from portrait-related figure subjects), most of which depict the sitter at life size but on a small canvas that shows less than half the figure. But from the very outset of his career, and with increasing frequency after 1889, he essayed full-length portraits in the Grand Manner. Between 1870 and 1909, when he all but ceased painting, Eakins produced 36 full-length portrait figures, either seated or standing. A closer look at the choice and treatment of these relatively few sitters teaches us much about Eakins, his methods, and his values. If, as Oscar Wilde remarked, every great portrait is a picture of the artist, this “grand” series reveals in the most ambitious format the identity of the artist, covertly buried in the elaborate perspective coordinates of each composition, or enacted in a private pantheon of colleagues—artists, scientists, and teachers—that embody his grandest aspirations and mirror his sense of self.


Friends and Rivals: Copley, West, Peale, Trumbull, and Stuart
Jules David Prown, Yale University

John Singleton Copley, The Copley Family, 1776/17771776/1777

John Singleton Copley, The Copley Family, 1776/1777, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Fund, 1961.7.1

John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West were born in 1738; Charles Willson Peale, some two and one-half years later. Gilbert Stuart and John Trumbull, born in 1755 and 1756, respectively, belonged to the next generation. Their paths crossed and recrossed throughout their uniformly long lives. They formed friendships, influenced each other both through their art and personally, competed for clients, and eventually drifted apart, or, in the case of Copley and West, became bitter enemies. The lecture focuses on the artists' personal and professional encounters and interactions to tell the story of how they affected each other's lives and work.