Letter: An inspiring platform for American art

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Sir: Many of us who love American art are envious of Londoners these days, both for the exhibition American Art in the 20th Century at the Royal Academy and the Saatchi Gallery, and for the remarkable debate it has engendered.

I found the exhibition itself visually stunning. Going through it, I felt pleased that my museum was able to lend two pictures, a Hopper and a Sheeler, and I only wish we could have agreed to the organisers' other two requests, for our Joseph Stella, Old Brooklyn Bridge, and our Jackson Pollock, Troubled Queen, from 1945, both of which were too fragile to travel.

This is truly a great exhibition, one which any number of museums around the world would have been pleased to show. The most important American painters are shown in depth, just as they should have been: one marvels at the terrific groups of works by Hopper, Sheeler, Gorky, DeKooning, Lichtenstein, Calder, Pollock, Rauschenberg, Johns, among others, and at the generally sensitive way in which they have been installed.

No two experts would do the same exhibition in the same way, and all of us will have our quibbles. For my part, I would have included Morris Louis, David Salle and Sean Scully; I found the show's lack of Stuart Davis at his best, as seen in his paintings of around 1940, to be unfortunate; and I, too, found the omission of Mark di Suvero inexplicable. Similarly, I would have reduced the number of works by Still, Francis, Basquiat, and perhaps a few others.

One might also note parenthetically that some of the strongest American modernist work of the Twenties and Thirties occurs in photography, particularly in the work of Stieglitz, Sheeler, Strand, and Edward Weston, and it is too bad that this aspect of American art was not included.

However, all of these are minor objections. Norman Rosenthal's essay makes it clear that this is a view of American art from Europe; it is intended not as a survey of American painting and sculpture, but rather as a look at some of the major contributions that Americans have made to art in the 20th century. The organisers' viewpoint is bold and articulate; for me, the exhibition provided a powerful and memorable experience.

Regarding the debate about it, we Americans are quite envious. The letters I have seen deal generally with aesthetic issues, and it seems wonderful that so many people seem truly to care about the content of an art exhibition, and that American art is now appreciated internationally. I don't believe that Thomas Hart Benton would be proud at being compared to Steinbeck by one writer, and I mean to ask Walter de Maria what he thinks about Lightning Field as the Sistine Chapel of our time.

All four exhibitions organised by Norman Rosenthal and his colleagues on the art of the 20th century have been extraordinary, and they do credit to the Royal Academy and to the art of our time.

Yours sincerely,

THEODORE E. STEBBINS JNR

Curator of American Paintings

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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