The Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy opened a group of new exhibitions and retrospectives earlier this month. Expanding the Narrative: Recent Acquisitions is comprised of artworks which have never before been displayed for public viewing: rare photo-collages from Beat-generation artist Mary Joan Jay Defeo, oil paintings of Jane Freilicher, and William Wegman’s more recent photographs and panels. In addition, the Addison focuses on self-taught photographer Gordon Parks and a specific set of prints in The New Tide, Early Work (1940-1950). These programs, funded in part by institutions such as the Elizabeth and Anthony Enders Exhibitions Fund and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, help fulfill the Addison’s mission to enrich the study of American art by presenting works that bridge different decades, movements, and media platforms.
With The New Tide, Early Work, Gordon Parks’ formative years in photography are showcased. Born in 1912, Parks first chronicled everyday life in St. Paul, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois, later to become one of the most lauded artists for Glamour, Ebony, Smart Woman, and Life magazines. His position documenting social conditions with the Farm Security Administration disclosed the marginalization and economic disparities of segregated communities, winning him generous notoriety in the decade spanning 1940-’50. Over the course of his 60-year career, Parks maintained relationships with such intellectuals and artists as Roy Stryker, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and Ralph Ellison—all of whom helped him mold his career in photojournalism and explore other successful occupations as musician, writer, and Blaxploitation film director. This particular exhibition, curated by Philip Brookman of the National Gallery of Art’s Department of Photography, brings together 150 images and other related items found in letters and family albums to frame Parks’ emerging, socially-conscious talent.
Located in Andover, Massachusetts, the Addison Gallery is home to one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of American art in the world. Opened in 1931, it first acquired 423 objects purchased and donated by committed alumni. As it continues to co-curate and promote nationally touring exhibitions—including Seeing Things in Things this autumn, a look at the innovative monuments of sculptor Mel Kendrick—it now holds well over 23,000 items from the past three centuries. The gallery, serving as an academic department of Phillips Academy’s wider educational community, also lends its collections for research purposes throughout the greater Boston area and coordinates art outreach programs free of charge at its Museum Learning Center.
From displaying the iconic imagery of Wegman and Parks, to the more contemporary multimedia paper works of Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, the Addison Gallery promises these current exhibitions will continue to perpetuate dialogues concerning the transformative agenda of visual art in the United States. Expanding the Narrative will be on view for the rest of the month of February until March 1st, as it coincides with the final week of Come As You Are: American Youth (which examines the thematic intersection of childhood, memory, and identity politics of adolescence through photography). The New Tide, Early Work exhibit will be on view until April 26th.