And Celebrating the 84th Year of the Museum

HAGERSTOWN, MD—With the end of the 19th century, the American life had changed from agricultural expansion, Westward growth, improvements in transportation and communication, to thriving centers of urban life and industrialization. The artistic movements of the century reflected the effects of modernization and told the story of changes in America. The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts’ collection includes dazzling examples of twentieth century works of art. From the time of its founding, the Museum built its art collection, even as the movements in 20th century art were coalescing. The exhibition presented in the beautifully refurbished Kerstein Gallery, “Ashcan to Abstraction,” is the first reflective, retrospective view of the Museum’s collecting during this important century of art, as interpreted by guest curator, Hollis Koons McCullough.

An Opening Night Preview Gala and Program will be held on Saturday October 3, 2015, followed on Sunday, October 4, 2015 by a free gallery talk and reception, hosted by the museum’s volunteer association, the Singer Society. This institutional initiative entailed the complete refurbishment of the Kerstein Gallery and a reinterpretation of the Museum’s collection of 20th century art, which has been in storage for a number of years. This major undertaking has been supported through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Kerstein, The Nora Roberts Foundation and The Henry Luce Foundation, and the touchscreen educational center in the gallery was supported through a grant from the Washington County Gaming Commission. The architectural planning and oversight was provided by Bushey Feight Morin Architects, Inc. and the construction by Building Systems, Inc.

The Kerstein Gallery is part of the Museum’s original 1930 building, designed by architects Hyde and Shepherd, and is protected by an easement of the Maryland Historic Trust (MHT). The gallery refurbishment was approved by the MHT and entailed replacement of the gallery walls and baseboards in proper proportions to the original interior. In addition, air supply and return ducts were cleaned, energy-efficient LED lighting was installed, and an interactive educational touchscreen was installed.

Guest curator Hollis Koons McCullough selected works of art to be included, and researched and wrote all interpretive wall labels and texts, as well as the educational materials for the touch-screen information center in the Kerstein Gallery. She recently served as guest  curator for the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts’ complete restoration and reinterpretation of the Singer Memorial Gallery. Prior to her move to Northern Virginia and her assuming the position as executive director of Greater Reston Center for the Arts, McCullough was Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia. She earned her Master of Arts degree in Art History from the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, and specialized in 19th- and early 20th-century American art.

At the turn of the 20th century, American artists began to respond to the social realities of a new era. Influenced by the charismatic artist and teacher Robert Henri, a loosely affiliated group of artists began to portray unvarnished depictions of urban life. Their gritty subject matter and subdued palettes led critics to label them the “Ashcan School.” Many of these artists found their inspiration on the streets of New York City, then teeming with newly arrived immigrants. This circle, which included Robert Henri, George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, Arthur B. Davies and George Bellows, among others, ushered in a new period of authenticity in American art.

During the Depression era of the 1930s, the Federal Government, under the auspices of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, hired artists to produce murals and artworks for public buildings under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). WPA artists generally focused on social realism, or the “American Scene,” creating naturalistic depictions of ordinary American life, often strongly regional in nature.  Many of the artists of this period painted in a somewhat stylized, figurative manner, utilizing subdued color palettes and presenting everyday, working Americans in a positive, sometimes heroic, light. Following World War II, however, American artists began to challenge the status quo, artistically and culturally. Rejecting centuries of academic training, many abandoned realism, along with brushes and easels, in favor of an abstract, expressive style. The development of Abstract Expressionism was a watershed moment in American art. The pioneering dripped, poured and splashed canvases produced by these artists are often considered America’s first original contribution to art history. The advent of Abstract Expressionism repositioned New York City, where the movement had originated, as the new center of the contemporary art world.

The last quarter of the twentieth century witnessed a diversity of stylistic trends, from variations on abstraction, including Color Field Painting and Minimalism, to the return of figurative imagery in movements like Photorealism. Many artists who treated figurative imagery did so in a semi-abstract, often highly personal style. Armed with a century of innovative tradition, American artists of the late twentieth century embraced the freedom to both honor and reject the past, while building upon the future.

Event Details:
Saturday, October 3, 2015
Opening Night Preview, “Ashcan to Abstraction: Modernism In America” in the newly refurbished Kerstein Gallery
$125 per person
6–9 pm, Cocktails and Event Cuisine Buffet by Rik’s Café

Sunday, October 4
Gallery Talk at 2:30 pm by Hollis Koons McCullough
Reception, 2–4 pm

The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is funded through support from museum membership and annual fund donations by the public, grants from the business and corporate communities, and support from Washington County, the City of Hagerstown, private foundations, and the Maryland State Arts Council. For more information on the Museum, please phone (301) 739-5727 or visit www.wcmfa.org. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm, and Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm.