Saturday, February 28, 2009

Painting the Dark Side - Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America

Browsing last weekend at Labyrinth books I found Painting the Dark Side: Art and the Gothic Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Americaby Sarah Burns, on remainder. Purely by chance.

I bring up the chance aspect as it has been such a rich, fascinating read - I am rather sorry to finish the book, albeit the notes can keep me busy for quite a while too & I think it's an excellent reference for the future. With the exception of a Pittsburgh artist, David Gilmour Blythe, I am familiar with the artists discussed: Thomas Cole, Washington Allston, John Quidor, William Rimmer, Elihu Vedder, Thomas Eakins, and Albert Pinkham Ryder.

Growing up in proximity to the Detroit Institute of Arts, I recall being baffled by the enormous Allston painting Belshazzar's Feast, which is discussed at length in Burns book. Thereabouts I also developed a taste for American romantic painting. The DIA also has the Allston Flight of Florimell, & some paintings by Rimmer - Civil War Scene & Victory, & extravagantly hermetic works by Vedder & Ryder.

In NYC there is the American Wing at the Met, as well as the New-York Historical Society, which has the cycle of Thomas Cole's Course of Empire. Although the Met wing is now being reconfigured, my favorite gallery previously was the "romantic" room which included work by Rembrandt Peale, Raphaelle Peale, Samuel Morse, George Caleb Bingham, Quidor & Allston.

In the worlds of photography & contemporary art this is almost like having a secret - where would I go w/ such enthusiasms?

Bush discusses the art in the context of race, slavery, Civil War, Edgar Allan Poe, pulp literature, temperance, the women's movement, bohemianism, drug use, industry, madness, medicine, poverty. It is varied & speculative.

Looking at Burn's CV at Indiana University I see she teaches the history of photography - I would be very curious to hear her discuss 19th century photography, as outside of its progressive technological & formal histories, I think there is work and practices which are equally haunted.

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