Modern American Realism
Highlights from the Smithsonian’s Sara Roby Foundation Collection
OCT 20, 2018 – APR 28, 2019
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,
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.
Modern American Realism is presented on the Museum’s second floor adjacent to the American Galleries, offering opportunities for visitors not only to appreciate important American artists such as Hopper whose work is rarely seen in this city, but also to attain a deeper appreciation of the creative heritage their work drew upon and carried forward.
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 and Shawn Menashe. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports SAAM’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.