This NYS Museum in Albany features a new exhibit entitled “Not Just Another Pretty Place: The Landscape of New York”. I recommend you check it out. The installation, on display from September 2010 to March 2011, explores the many ways the landscape of New York State has been recorded, romanticized, utilized, and imagined. It presents over 100 landscape scenes from the museum’s own collections. One unique aspect of this exhibit is that you can be part of it, in a way. A few months ago the museum released a Call for Entry, inviting people to send in photographs of their favorite landscape, be it a backyard, a neighborhood street, a vacation spot, or any other special place. The museum’s curators wanted, in essence, to share views that inspire us to say, “Wish You Were Here!”; picture perfect postcards from every corner of New York State.
This was a great idea and I hear hundreds, if not thousands of photos were received. Nobody really knew about the selection process, or the scale of the project. They selected some of the best photographed landscapes and the result is now on display in the West Hall Corridor leading to the main exhibit. It is spectacular. That is one, huge, colorful collage, right? The panorama above was shot earlier this week, but many more photos have been added since then.You can catch a large version on my Flickr account, or find your own submission in this even larger 9704 x 3022 panorama.
There is some really good work here, covering the greater Capital District and even New York City. I like that they kept the photos anonymous on the wall, it feels like a collaborative project. I’m not certain they will hang any more photos but the online gallery is still growing. You can send your pictures or check the gallery by visiting the “Wish You Were Here: New York State Photographed By You” web page. The photos can be found in the Wish You Were Here NYSM Flickr group as well.
I submitted a dozen. I included a liberal amount of abandoned locations, not because I thought they were great photos, but because I feel strongly they are a legitimate part of the landscape. I had hoped that one or two would make it to this humongous wall, but the curators were pretty generous with everybody; to my surprise the whole set is now small part of this effort, including a large print of this Albany panorama. Thanks! I’m in good company. Click on a thumbnail below to open a larger view, or check the whole series as a full-screen Flickr slideshow.
From a technical point of view, I noticed that the photos displayed on the wall were not too gimmicky or over processed. There weren’t that many bad HDR or infrared shots for example, though the young woman next to me was definitely puzzled by one; I tried to help out a bit. She was actually even more surprised to see a baby photoshopped to giant proportions in a sprawling field. To be honest, I was too, but this image was really one single instance among hundreds of photos, an outlier lost at the bottom of the wall. Her comment, however, hit it on the nail: “This makes me question the other photos”. Food for thought.
Cameras are not allowed in the main exhibit unfortunately so I can’t post any picture of the pieces presented in this installation, but the NYS Museum generously sent me a few. This is just a sample, expect mountains, valleys, rivers as well as beaches, towns and cities. The exhibition includes works by Currier & Ives, Seneca Ray Stoddard, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Thomas Benjamin Pope, Fairfield Porter, Asa Twitchell, E.L. Henry and William Henry Jackson.
At the entrance of the exhibit, “North Lake from Bear’s Den” by Vincent Bilotta (above). The first room, “Recording the Landscape of New York”, features drawings, maps and paintings created for military, scientific or topological purposes (both early and contemporary). The second room, “Romanticizing the Landscape of New York” presents early photographs and oil paintings, a few by landscape painters Thomas Chambers (1808-1869) and Edward Gay (1837-1928).
The third room, “Utilizing the Landscape of New York” is dedicated to cityscapes as well as ads, including works dating back to the Works Progress Administration.The WPA was the largest New Deal agency, employing millions to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It also operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. One such WPA art project is a large painting of fellow Frenchman Blondin crossing the gorge below Niagara Falls on a tightrope in June 1859.
Above, “Storm Across the Hudson” by Jasper Francis Cropsey. The last room, “Imagining the Landscape of New York” features more work from artists affiliated to the Federal Art Project, the visual arts arms of the WPA, as well as fantasy views of New York State. These imaginary locations were most often used as background for portraits, such as one painted by Daniel Huntington (1816, 1906). Contemporary pieces include dream-like cityscapes of NYC by Thomas McKnight (born 1941), and paintings by Albert Pels (1910-1998)
There is a lot to see in “Not Just Another Pretty Place”, and “Wish You Were Here” is the icing on the cake on your way to this tribute to the landscapes of our great state. Thanks to the NYS Museum for involving the community in that project.
Above, Untitled Oil Painting of Hudson River Highlands.
Above, “The Cut” by Cecil Chichester. All three photos above used with the permission of the NYS Museum (Albert G.). You can find a few more paintings in one of the albums on the NYS Museum Facebook page.
Directions and Hours
The museum is free and open from 9:50 to 5pm, 222 Madison Ave, Albany, NY.
There is more to read, check Not Just Another Pretty Place: The Landscape of New York at NYSM by David Brickman at Get Visual.
Cameras are not allowed in the main exhibit, but the NYS Museum has some photos of the installation on its Flickr account: