In the fall of 1994 the White House initiated a series of exhibitions titled Twentieth Century American Sculpture at The White House, for the First Ladies' Garden. Conceived by Hillary Rodham Clinton, developed by J. Carter Brown, and organized under the auspices of the Association of Art Museum Directors, this series highlights sculpture drawn from public collections across the United States. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is honored to have been invited to curate the third Twentieth Century American Sculpture at The White House exhibition, showcasing works from museums in the Southwest and West. In organizing this presentation we had the pleasure of following the example of George Neubert, Director of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Towensend Wolfe, Director and Chief Curator of The Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock.
As we began to focus on themes for this exhibition, we sought out works representative of the transformations that have shaped the course of sculpture across this century. The advent of Modernism literally knocked sculpture off its pedestal as succeeding generations of artists explored new ways of thinking about working in space. Two Beaux-Arts figures introduce our presentation: gracefully elevated on finely molded bases, they are representative of the Renaissance revival that characterized American art at the turn of the century. In contrast, today's artists freely address the relationship between figure and ground, frequently banishing any form of visible support to test the limits of sculptural composition.
The ten artists featured here demonstrate a remarkable vitality and diversity of expression, from Adolph Weinman's romantic and classicizing statues of 1915 to Joseph Havel's ebulliently inventive assemblage of 1993. Georgia O'Keefe and Jesus Bautista Moroles have captured a visionary spirit in their abstractions, while William Tucker addresses the beauty of pure geometry in his work. An iconoclastic intelligence animates the compositions of Scott Burton, Joel Shapiro, and Robert Therrien, as they challenge and celebrate the reductive aesthetics of Minimalism. Deborah Butterfield's image of a graceful horse has a startling naturalism, while Martin Puryear's Decoy wittily evokes an artificial duck with remarkable economy.
Despite their divergent explorations of medium and composition, these artists are united in their tactile love of materials and their exuberant command of form. Assembling these works in the gracious precinct of the First Ladies' Garden creates a dynamic visual dialogue; they complement and redefine the garden site. These are works that invite the viewer to pause, to walk around, and in one case, even to sit down.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hillary Rodham Clinton and J. Carter Brown for their visionary support of this project. The curator, Alison de Lima Greene of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has continued her tradition of organizing superb exhibitions, setting the highest standard of uncompromising excellence. A deep thank you to our many colleagues who generously shared their collections, expertise, and connoisseurship, and to the talented members of the White House staff for their spirit of cooperation. With them, we are grateful for the support of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation; such enlightened patronage ensures the future of the arts in this nation.Peter C. Marzio, Director
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston