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Modern American Realism

Oct 20, 2018 - Apr 28, 2019
1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR
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Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection


A selection of treasured artworks from the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Modern American Realism encompasses the range of what can broadly be called modern realism—from sociopolitical to psychological, from satirical to surrealist. Drawn from works collected by the Sara Roby Foundation, the exhibition includes 44 paintings and sculptures from the 1910s to 1980s by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Arthur Dove, Edward Hopper, Wolf Kahn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, Reginald Marsh, and Honoré Sharrer, among others.Sara Roby (1907-1986) believed that the most effective way to encourage the visual arts in the United States was to acquire the works of living artists and exhibit them to the public. The Sara Roby Foundation began collecting American art in the mid-1950s, and during the next 30 years assembled a premier group of paintings and sculpture by the country’s leading figurative artists.

The resulting collection captures both the optimism and the apprehension of the years following World War II. Many of the works are poignantly human, such as Dowager in a Wheelchair (1952) by Philip Evergood, while others, by artists such as Robert Vickrey, challenge us to decipher meanings imbedded in complex, sometimes enigmatic scenes.

Sara Roby refused to be bound by current trends when she began collecting in the 1950s. She championed realism at a time when critics celebrated abstract expressionism and “action painting.” Yet, she was unwilling to be constrained by her own collecting criteria. In addition to obtaining masterpieces by Edward Hopper, Paul Cadmus, and their contemporaries, the Foundation showed cultural range by purchasing key works by Stuart Davis and Louise Nevelson, and regional breadth by collecting works by Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, both preeminent Northwest Artists.

“The Portland Art Museum is honored to partner with the Smithsonian American Art Museum to bring some of their twentieth-century treasures to Oregon,” said Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Director and Chief Curator of the Portland Art Museum. “The Sara Roby Foundation Collection has exceptional examples of 20th-century American realism, many of which are rarely seen in our community, including major works by Paul Cadmus, Edward Hopper and Nancy Grossman. Our audience will also appreciate seeing regional favorites such as Jacob Lawrence and Morris Graves.”

Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection was organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) with generous support from the Sara Roby Foundation, Gevurtz Menashe, and the European and American Art Council. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports SAAM’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.


LECTURE: Virginia Mecklenburg – October 20, 2018

Artists included