Landscapes dispel American myths
PICTURING THE AMERICAS at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West) to September 20. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNN
Landscape painting and its connection to our conception of the land is at the heart of Picturing The Americas. This intriguing retrospective brings together over 100 works from pan-American collections ranging from Canada to Uruguay. Many of the works are shown in Toronto for the first time.
The Americas have long been as much a place of collective fantasy as of continuous exploration and exploitation. Since the 15th century, Europeans have imagined the New World as pristine and unspoiled.
Then there’s the image of the North American landscape painter as heroic naturalist pioneer recording the splendour of majestic mountains and valleys. The works in this extremely diverse collection meticulously deconstruct these shopworn narratives from various angles.
No show of American landscape painting is complete without an Albert Bierstadt panorama of the Yose-mite Valley slathered in impossibly buttery light there’s a particularly fine example here, along with an equally majestic Thomas Moran. There’s also a fair share of pedestrian scenes showing the slow encroachment of prosaic, hardscrabble settlement life across North and South America, some of the many images that contrast with Europe’s romantic vision.
Considerable attention is paid to the representation of indigenous peoples, starting with visions of the “noble savage” and then stark historical paintings from the era when artists believed the hemisphere’s native peoples were a relic of the past, doomed to extinction.
Stretching from the early settlement period to the modernist era – including Georgia O’Keeffe’s stunning Black Mesa Landscape – the show is a thoughtful and ambitious attempt to assemble the varied perspectives that make up our collective vision of the Americas’ past and future.