Charles Sheeler: Across Media
Charles Sheeler: Across Media is the first exhibition to focus exclusively on the complex, often paradoxical, relationships between photography, film, drawing, printmaking, and painting that were central to Sheeler's art. The exhibition features approximately 50 works and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring three essays: a brief introductory overview of the Sheeler literature, a detailed analysis of the artist's mediums and working methods, and a discussion of how those findings suggest new approaches to interpreting Sheeler's work.
A celebration of the formal clarity and beauty of Sheeler's works, the exhibition builds upon a core of masterpieces, including the magnificent painting Classic Landscape and the masterful contÃ© crayon drawings Interior with Stove and Counterpoint, as well as striking Doylestown photographs: The Stove, Stairwell, and Stairway with Chair.
The exhibition includes a small selection of Sheeler's seminal ca. 1917 photographs of the interior of an 18th-century Quaker fieldstone house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. These highly experimental, innovative night scenes, in which a familiar antiquarian subject is transformed into a modernist abstraction, represent Sheeler's first major achievement as a photographer. By 1920 Sheeler was collaborating with Paul Strand on Manhatta, regarded as the first avant-garde film made in the United States, and the exhibition features a vintage print of this fascinating six-minute montage of New York City's urban landscape. The footage is projected continuously in close proximity to a number of related photographs and paintings from the early 1920s.
Moving from the rural to the urban to the industrial, the third component of the exhibition highlights the finest works from the series of iconic paintings and contÃ© crayon drawings inspired by the documentary photographs that the Ford Motor Company commissioned Sheeler to produce in 1927 of the River Rouge Plant. They illustrate how a mastery of various techniques enabled Sheeler to elucidate ever more subtle and intricate relationships between his different mediums.
A highlight of the exhibition, which is presented alongside the works from which it is derived, is Sheeler's enigmatic masterpiece The Artist Looks at Nature (1943) in which Sheeler paints himself in the process of sketching the 1932 drawing, Interior with Stove, which was in turn based on the Doylestown photograph The Stove. The exhibition concludes with a select group of images inspired by Sheeler's experiments with photomontage in the 1940s and 1950s, such as Counterpoint, which are among the most complex and intriguing achievements of his entire career.
Prior to its presentation in San Francisco, Charles Sheeler: Across Media will have been on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. from 7 May through 27 August 2006, and at the Art Institute of Chicago from 7 October 2006 through 7 January 2007.