Addison Exhibit “Expanding the Narrative: New Exhibitions” Highlights Changing Views of America

Against a burnt orange backdrop, a gray Weimaraner dog sits primly at the edge of an asymmetrical wooden bench, staring directly sideways. In the middle, the photograph is cut abruptly in two, extending the end of the bench into a second picture frame. Below the painting stands an identical, real-life wooden bench.

This piece, “Looking Over” by William Wegman, greets visitors on the second floor of the Addison Gallery of American Art as the first piece of the new exhibit, “Expanding the Narrative: New Exhibitions.” The exhibit opened this past Saturday and features work that entered the museum collection within the past ten years. It was curated by Allison Kemmerer.

“I love the way Wegman is expanding the narrative by making a single work cross frames into a second print, and then it’s literally coming out of the picture and into life with the bench. So, a literal take on the title that I thought was fun,” said Kemmerer.

The work featured in the exhibit is not only recently acquired but also relevant to American history. According to Kemmerer, “Expanding the Narrative” aims to highlight how perceptions of the country have changed over time.

“The core collection came to us in 1930. People’s view of ‘what is America’ or ‘what is American’ back then might be very different than what it is today. So over time we’re constantly adding works that are representative of multiple viewpoints that expand the story or [portray] the narrative of American art,” said Kemmerer.

Kelly Song ’20, an Addison Ambassador and attendee of the gallery opening, specifically enjoyed a portrait of Langston Hughes and how it expanded the narrative.

“There is one piece by Gordon Parks—it’s a photograph portrait of Langston Hughes—and I thought it was really cool because… he had a frame as a tool… and so he framed him by his hand instead of his face, which I thought was a really interesting artistic choice.”

Song also appreciated the diversity in artists represented within the exhibit. According to Song, she felt as though the varying backgrounds and identities supported Kemmerer’s intention to address American history accurately.

“I think that [the featured works] are all purposes that serve a greater narrative, and we kind of watch America’s social scene unfold throughout time… You have to consider all of the pieces in relation to each other—just walking around and really seeing the chronological evolution,” said Song.

In addition to shedding light on American history, the exhibit also aimed to celebrate the contributions of the museum’s donors. The Addison’s collection has grown to include over 21,000 works, as compared to its initial core collection of 423.

“People are always curious, I think… not only to see what we’re adding, but to see how we add it. Most of what we get comes through donations. We do have an acquisition fund, but it’s modest, and we can only afford modest works. So, really important works come to us with the help of donors.

Another attendee of the gallery opening, Soph Ma ’21, came to the Addison for artistic inspiration. She appreciated the ability of this broad collection to expand the American narrative.

“The new exhibits showcase American art through the lens of relevant social issues like race, gender, and sexuality. It’s an amazing chance to see how different works of art from different time periods relate to each other, which I guess is the beauty of curating a museum exhibit,” said Ma.