“American Landscapes”.  The phrase calls to mind pastoral scenes like hills and mountains, sunsets on meadows, beautiful rocky coastlines. When visiting an exhibit of American Landscape artwork it is common to expect each painting to outdo the last in its stunning capture of light and mood, with the incredible beauty of nature as the focal point. The Maryland Federation of Art’s 16th annual national American Landscapes exhibit at Annapolis’ Circle Gallery (18 State Circle) is indeed striking, but not in the traditional sense.

Is the artwork beautiful?  Definitely. Each work is beautifully rendered, captured or crafted. If sales are a barometer, this exhibit earns high marks in aesthetics and quality. It is an exquisitely curated collection of paintings, photographs, collage, and 3D artwork from artists all over the country.

A reflective experience

Ice House. photograph by Kathy Bennett Dove, image courtesy of MFA Ice House. photograph by Kathy Bennett Dove, image courtesy of MFA

The overall look and feel is unexpected because, as a whole, it provides one with a sense of right now—our current environment—rather than the traditional sense of capturing the majesty of that which was there before us and which will continue long after we are gone.

There is a hint of Edward Hopper throughout. The exhibit is heavily imbued with manmade structures against sometimes quiet and sometimes harsh natural backdrops, in many cases with no sign of human life, even in the urban landscapes.  In the few artworks that include figures, they are shadowy, singular or symbolic.  I realize that makes it sound dark and moody but it is not; I found it to be reflective more than anything. Collectively, the work was guiding me to consider our presence, influence and impact in both rural and urban environments.

In short, these works of art provide the observer with a dimension beyond just the aesthetics.  They make a statement singularly and collectively, which develops quietly as you view the entire exhibit.  If you are looking for art with substance, this is a must-see. I often refer to the Circle Gallery as the Soho experience in Annapolis. This exhibit would fit beautifully in Manhattan’s Chelsea. Almost every piece has a contemporary feel, with a unique twist on the conventional.

Insiders offer their take on the exhibit

Forgotten Chairs, acrylic on canvas by Ellwood Derricks, image courtesy of MFA Forgotten Chairs, acrylic on canvas by Ellwood Derricks, image courtesy of MFA

The juror for this exhibit was Liza Key Strelka, Manager of Exhibitions at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.  She explains the thoughts behind her selections in a video, here. She did indeed make selections that speak to the two issues of examining the current definition of the American Landscape, as well as the changes we are witnessing.

Joann Vaughan, MFA’s Executive Director, gives her take on the exhibit: “It seems to reflect the mood of the country, with a point of view that is a grittier image than a typical commercial landscape exhibit. We face certain challenges today as a country, such as political, infrastructure and the issue of safety, and this exhibit doesn’t present the answers but rather outlines some of the issues.  It is a broken-window type of show.”

View exhibits online

American Landscapes is on display at Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle, through September 10. If you can’t make it to the gallery, you can still see the exhibit. The artwork in this exhibition is also available for viewing online through the MFA Sales Gallery, which you can access through the American Landscapes page on the MFA website. It is running in tandem with MFA’s inaugural Curve Gallery exhibition, “Global Landscapes”, an international exhibition that offers a slightly more traditional feel as a whole, yet includes a wide variety of styles and content. The Curve Gallery is an online-only exhibition, and may be viewed by visiting the MFA website’s Global Landscape web page.  The exhibition is online through September 21.