Pittsburgh well-represented in coast-to-coast billboard exhibit

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 8:01 p.m.

Apparently Pittsburgh artists and donors have great taste.

Seven American paintings with connections to Pittsburgh are among the 58 favorite works chosen by American voters.

These paintings and 51 others will be on display Aug. 4 to 31 on 50,000 billboards, bus shelters and bus and subway displays across the country as part of Art Everywhere US, a collaborative celebration of American masterworks organized by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and five U.S. museums — The Art Institute of Chicago, Dallas Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

“For four weeks, (the paintings) will become a part of everybody's daily landscape,” says Maxwell Anderson, the Eugene McDermott director of the Dallas Museum of Art who served as liaison between the museums and Outdoor Advertising. “That's important for any number of reasons — not least of which is the fact that we can read our history in America's works of art. It's good for a conversation about American art to become part of the national dialogue.”

Edward Hopper's “Nighthawks” received the most votes. Also among those chosen are popular American artists who include Thomas Eakins, James McNeil Whistler, Gilbert Stuart, Georgia O'Keefe, Thomas Moran and Roy Lichtenstein.

“Part of the challenge was that there were so many glorious objects,” Anderson says.

The four paintings by Pittsburgh artists are:

• Peabody High School graduate Romare Bearden's “Soul Three, 1968”

• “The Child's Bath” and “The Boating Party,” both by North Side native Mary Cassatt.

• Oakland native Andy Warhol's “Campbell's Soup Can, 1964.”

Nicholas Chambers, the Milton Fine Curator of Art at the Warhol Museum on the North Side was not surprised that Warhol's “Campbell's Soup Can” made the cut.

That work in particular, was part of Warhol's first solo show with a contemporary art gallery, Chambers says. “It was a defining moment, not only for Warhol's career, but in American art.”

Three more paintings were donated by Pittsburgh philanthropists:

• William Harnett's “The Old Violin” was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Mellon Scaife to the National Gallery of Art in honor of Paul Mellon.

• Winslow Homer's “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)” was a gift to the National Gallery of Art by the W. L. and May T. Mellon Foundation.

• Willem DeKooning's “Excavation, 1950” was purchased by The Art Institute of Chicago with money from Mr. and Mrs. Frank G Logan Purchase Prize Fund; restricted gifts of Pittsburgh native Edgar Kaufman Jr. and Mr. & Mrs. Noah Goldowsky.

Charles Brock, associate curator of American and British Painting for the National Gallery of Art, calls “The Old Violin” and “Breezing Up (A Fair Wind)” “two of the most prominent and iconic masterpieces of the 19th century. Both images are undeniable masterpieces.”

When displayed together in the website art gallery, the 58 paintings are ranked not by their popularity, but chronologically, from John Singleton Copley's “Watson and the Shark” (1778) to Cindy Sherman's “Untitled” (2008).

That was to avoid hurt feelings among the cooperating museums and their directors, says Anderson.

Inspiration for the program came from Art Everywhere, a similar program in the United Kingdom begun in August 2013 to showcase works by British artists.

On this side of the pond, Outdoor Advertising asked Anderson to participate. He contacted the four museums that had partnered with the Dallas Museum of Art on exhibitions and loans since 1987.

Together, the five institutions represent museums from a variety of locations around the nation that possess collections with a diversity of artists, time periods and styles.

In January, each museum was invited to nominate 30 paintings for a list that was eventually narrowed to 100 paintings, shaped to make sure that many artists and styles were included.

That list, Anderson says “is a primer of American art history from the founding fathers to the last century.”

From April 7 to 30, online voting took place on www.ArtEverywhereUS.org, which was promoted on social-media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

During that month, voters could cast one vote for each of any 10 paintings, each day, with a maximum of 10 votes per each IP address.

After voting ended, the museums added eight additional works.

As of July 14, Outdoor Advertising, the program's funder, had raised $384,250 to cover costs of reproducing the images and displaying them. The figure does not include in-kind contributions or media space.

Anderson hopes that displaying the paintings in a very public way will raise curiosity and discussion about American art and increase interest in art museums.

“I would hope that Americans and tourists would have a very different perspective on how to spend their time in August,” Anderson says. “This is a chance for art museums to say something about what they have… (and for visitors) to see well known works alongside those not so well known.”

An advance look at the 58 paintings can be found on the Art Everywhere US website at www.arteverywhereus.org

Alice T. Carter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, acarter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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