Currents/Crosscurrents Addison Exhibition Highlights Marginalized Narratives of American Art History

Presenting iconic American paintings, photographs, works on paper, and sculptures created between 1850 and 1900, Curator Gordon Wilkins kicked off the “Currents/Crosscurrents” exhibition at the Addison Virtual Gallery Talk on January 27, 2021. The chronological three-part exhibition series features artists such as Thomas, Eakins, Winslow Homer, and James McNeill Whistler. 

The exhibition took a 100-year journey into American art history. Although Wilkins began by introducing previously dominant and familiar narratives, the focus of the presentation was to underline less-known and marginalized artworks and artists and inspire the audience to reflect upon America’s historical silencing. 

“It’s looking at those communities in this show and the people who are going against the grain, against the current, who were making things that represent a very singular vision that was not part of the dominant culture of their time, but they were working because they had their own convictions and their own vision,” said Wilkins.

In his presentation, Wilkins highlighted the relationship between art and its time and historical context. He expressed that it is currently a dynamic time in the field of art history, as the revaluations of our art is closely relevant to the larger national reckoning about the identity of our country. 

“It’s important to show people that American art history is not fixed… People sometimes think about art as separate from life, or it can exist almost outside of reality or of everyday life, but to show that art is really a reflection of its time, even the most abstract work in some ways is reflective of its time, and is definitely responding to its time,” said Wilkins.

Taking advantage of the virtual format on Zoom, Wilkins focused this exhibition on creating connections between individual artworks by visually putting them together on presentation slides, as opposed to a traditional American art history lecture. 

“I like the idea that with a Powerpoint…[,] you can really stop to consider without distraction these two or three images together to really look and think about why are these things close to each other? How does proximity influence your perception of something else?” said Wilkins.

Moving forward, Wilkins emphasized Addison’s room for improvement in representing female-identifying artists and artists of color. He opposed the notion of tokenism, and aimed to recognize and celebrate more artists of minority for the artwork themselves. 

“Something that I’m aware of is that you don’t want to appear reactionary or make it seem as though you’re just adding works by artists of colour or women artists to assuage people or to get the attention off of your collection deficits, but that’s something we’ve always been aware of, and want to make sure we’re respecting the individual artist,” said Wilkins.