Monday, January 20, 2014

Animals & Goddesses: Anna Hyatt Huntington

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University has hosted, since the late 1980s, an array of rotating exhibitions, many often directly linked to curriculum programs at the university. The latest is no exception. Entitled Goddess, Heroine, Beast: Anna Hyatt Huntington's New York Sculpture, 1902-1936, the exhibition is a retrospective of this woman sculptor (1876-1973) who, during at least the first half of the 20th century, was one of New York City's most popular artists. The exhibition was curated by Prof. Anne Higonnet and her seminar students. I had a sneak peak during the installation, and the show is going to be fantastic. Huntington's favored medium was bronze, and she was clearly a student of close observation when it came to animals. Her sculptures are quite amazing in their realism. The work you see here is Cranes Rising, 1934, a gift from the artist to Columbia (photo: Mark Ostrander), which my department (Art Properties) agreed to include in the exhibition. (I must give my art handler LGS credit for working hard on cleaning and waxing the sculpture, and I encouraged everyone involved with the exhibition to consider using this piece as a focal point as it was a Columbia-owned work and properly should be given due credit in a Columbia exhibition.)

In the piece you see here, notice how Huntington shows a flock of cranes first at rest in the marshes, then moving upward in a coil, with the top crane soaring into the sky. It's fascinating how she expressed the sweeping movement in time with such a naturalistic effect, yet still managed to kept the work within a quadrilateral space, reducing the potential "baroque" effect of affected motion and exaggerated theatricality. Her interest in animals clearly hearkens back to the Romantic sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875), who established a career for himself as an animalier, specializing in animals in action--usually in their most violent forms. Barye also produced high-quality reduced bronzes commercially, enabling the middle classes to own fine works of art for their homes, although his practice was highly criticized by the Academy as a form of "selling out." Huntington also sculpted works depicting strong female saints like Joan of Arc and goddesses like Diana, suggesting an affinity for masculinity not only in her choice of subjects but also in the very art of bronze-making itself. Many of her sculptures are large public monuments: the Joan of Arc equestrian statue is less than 10 blocks away from my apartment near Riverside Park! Like Harriet Hosmer, Emma Stebbins, and other great women sculptors of the past, Huntington is arguably a feminist sculptor who takes pride in demonstrating what a woman can do as an artist. The exhibition opens this week and runs until March 15. News about it is already buzzing: an article in The New York Times (scroll down on the page); and The Magazine Antiques has an article written by Higonnet giving a summary of her life and work

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