Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a New Democracy will provide a new perspective on American art by approaching narrative subject matter through the lens of taste as it was defined roughly from 1825 to 1870, when the place of the arts in a democracy was hotly debated in the United States. By integrating history, literary, and religious subjects with now better-known examples of rural and domestic genre, the exhibition will introduce the broad range of styles and narrative themes through which nineteenth-century American viewers were expected to attain cultural refinement.
The selection of 55 works from N-YHS collections includes works by such canonical artists as Benjamin West, Asher B. Durand, William Sidney Mount, and Eastman Johnson, as well as significant works by artists who were major figures in their own time (Daniel Huntington, Henry Peters Gray, and Louis Lang), but who are virtually ignored in current American art surveys. The reintegration of these "forgotten" works into the larger art-historical framework will challenge the canon of taste that has elevated genre (i.e., scenes of everyday life) to a privileged position at the expense of other narrative modes (including Stuart and Tudor, Shakespearean, and idealized subjects inspired by European masters). A fully-illustrated publication will accompany the exhibition.
Exhibition will be temporarily closed from April 1–May 4, 2012