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Strut: The Peacock and Beauty in Art
October 11, 2014 - January 18, 2015


 
 
      Strut: The Peacock and Beauty in Art explores our fascination with this most glamorous of birds, a symbol of vainglory and the darling of designers and painters.
       Strutting in its sapphire-blue and emerald-green feathers, the peacock symbolizes all things vain and beautiful in centuries of painting, sculpture, in books and myth, and on clothes that swirl and shine like the iridescent bird itself. Intrigued by the exotic art of Asia that prized and portrayed the peacock, Western artists and craftsmen chose the peacock as a multi-faceted motif for designs on canvas and for objets d’art in the home.
       The Hudson River Museum presents Strut: The Peacock and Beauty in Art from October 11, 2014 through January 18, 2015. Organized by the Museum, it is the first scholarly survey of the peacock in art.
       Paintings and decorative objects for the home present concepts of beauty symbolized by the luxurious bird and its famous fan of feathers from the 19th-century’s Gilded Age and 1920s Art Nouveau and Art Deco until Modernism’s ethos of “less is more, ” caused a brief decline in the peacock’s popularity. As the contemporary art world re-embraces beauty in a new “Gilded Age”, the peacock struts its way back into the art world.
       Among the highlights of The Peacock in Beauty and Art are images of women bedecked in peacock feathers, such as Robert Henri’s full-length portrait of Ruth St. Denis in the Peacock Dance, 1913, William Baxter Palmer Closson’s Feeding the Peacocks, 1910 and Aubrey Beardsley’s The Peacock Skirt, created for Oscar Wilde’s Salome. The bird itself receives its own glamorous portraits in paintings like Louis Rhead’s Peacocks, 1897, Jesse Arms, Botkes’ Black Peacock, c. 1930, and sculptures like Anna Hyatt Huntington’s Peacock’s Fighting, 1914. Peacock feathers are extracted into beguiling geometric patterns in the lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany and gilded Crown Derby porcelains. The peacock also appears to whimsical effect in parade costumes, pictures of Elvis, strutting peacock-style, and images of silent-era Hollywood starlets ready for their close-ups. The peacock’s origins as a bird of the Indian jungles comes to the fore in Charles R. Knight’s (famed for his murals at the American Museum of Natural History) fearsome Bengal Tiger and Peacock, 1928. Contemporary artists show the peacock’s gift of line ─ Laura Ball, Barbara Takenaga, and Federico Uribe find inspiration in the bird’s striking feathers, brilliant coloration, and the sensuous s-curves of its body.  Two Westchester based artists highlighted in the show are Tricia Wright from Irvington and Dillon Lundeen Goldschlag from Tarrytown.
       The exhibition includes works from more than three dozen museums, galleries and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and Yale Center for British Art.
       Bartholomew F. Bland, the Museum’s Director of Curatorial Affairs, and Laura L. Vookles, Chief Curator of Collections, are co-curators for the exhibition, which is accompanied by a fully illustrated 200-page catalogue co-published by the Museum and Fordham University Press and distributed nationally by Oxford University Press.

The exhibition and the accompanying catalog have been made possible by a generous grant from the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serpents, a Slave,
a Fisher Boy

See the Sculptures >

Lily Cox-Richard: Possessing Powers
May 10 - September 14, 2014

The Stand
Lily Cox-Richard. The Stand: Possessing Powers, 2013   Photo: Sharad Patel, 2013


      
It started with an apple and a serpent. Then the tempting began.
      Eve Disconsolate, the masterpiece by Hiram Powers, America’s best-known neoclassical sculptor now in the collection of the Hudson River Museum, shows a distressed Eve about to be banished from the Garden of Eden. Eve, and other works by the 19th-century artist, inspired contemporary sculptor Lily Cox-Richard to make fresh sculptural forms, elements that she selects, edits, and re-recreates from Powers’ earlier works. Her six sculptures − The Stand (Possessing Powers) − are faithful to the sculptural traditions of Powers’ originals but Cox-Richard’s sculptures contain a striking omission − the figures themselves, figures that broke new ground when Powers’ made them − idealized nudes and noble savages.
      Powers carved the original Eve Disconsolate into marble in 1871 and it was gifted to the Hudson River Museum in 1951, after standing for years as a garden sculpture in a Tarrytown garden. Always on view at the Museum, it will be joined by The Stand sculptures, completed in 2013, in the Museum’s galleries, May 10 to September 14 in the exhibition Lily Cox-Richard: Possessing Powers.
The Stand sculptures could serve as structural support for the absent marble figures but under Cox-Richard they play an even stronger role as narrative support to the stories Powers tells through his two “Eves” − Eve Tempted (modeled 1839-42) and Eve Disconsolate (modeled 1855-1861); The Greek Slave (modeled 1841-43); California (modeled 1850–55); Fisher Boy (modeled 1841-44), and The Last of the Tribes (modeled 1867-72). 
      Cox-Richard, intrigued by the contact between the figure and its base, looks to the base for the story. “My sculpture grapples with charging empty spaces, revealing invisible systems, and reaffirming exhausted objects,” she said. In The Stand’s Eve, as in the original by Powers’, a serpent encircles a tree trunk, the base on which Eve’s foot is poised. Leafy branches barely cloak the snake’s prideful gloating over its successful and, as it was to prove, tragic tempting of the Mother of Mankind. The story, though, belongs to both the tempted and the tempter, seen from two different vantages by two different artists, employing differing processes. Powers, always concerned with detail in his sculpture, had a real rattlesnake sent from America to his Florence studio for a model. Cox-Richard recreating the snake makes its scales by pressing fishnet stockings into the wet plaster. “I look for new materials and techniques suited to the project at hand, even as it is grounded in an historical work,” she said.
      Cox-Richard, like many artists today seeks direction for America’s sculpture and she looks back to its 19th-century beginnings, a high point for the United States and its newly flourishing national identity. She explores, too, that time’s artistic product and its moral and social messages, and comes up with questions about gender stereotypes and the oversimplified allegories from the nation’s history.  In The Last of the Tribes a tree trunk once again enables Cox-Richard to break a Powers’ sculpture into its elements. A Native American woman runs from civilization, her skirt brushing across the trunk of a tree.  The stump/skirt is the site of action that charges the sculpture but Cox-Richard cannot tease the figure and its support apart. Instead, in her recreation the woman’s skirt rests on and emerges from the stump, stressing the moment of the connection, the only moment that shows the figure moving. Cox Richard: “Reduced to their structural supports, my carved plaster sculptures are both originals and copies, homage and critique, familiar and strange, created in an attempt to see what new content might be revealed when the figure is removed, and how this work can be transformed when it is reimagined through a contemporary sculpture practice.”
      The exhibition, The Stand, also includes Cox-Richard’s cast plaster objects drawn from the Powers’ sculptures – the manacles from the Greek Slave, the shell from Fisher Boy, among them and photographs of the hand, from her exhibition and small documentary book The Thicket. Powers was deeply interested in the form of the hand and sculpted many for clients as well as those for his figures. He held Swedenborgian religious beliefs that taught that touch was crucial to both motherly and conjugal love.
      Hiram Powers (1805-1873), often called the Father of American Sculpture, lived in Florence close to Italy’s good marble and craftsmen as did other American sculptors at that time. His technique, though, distinguished him from his contemporaries – his marble surfaces are matte and porous, not highly polished, which Cox-Richard’s plaster sculptures echo.
      Lily Cox-Richard has exhibited at Hirschl & Adler Galleries in New York, Vox Populi in Philadelphia, the Poor Farm in Manawa, Wisconsin, and Kompact Living Space in Berlin. Among the fellowships she has been awarded are a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, a postdoctoral fellowship in the University of Michigan's Society of Fellows, and residencies at the CORE Program at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. While a teacher in residence at Houston, she became familiar with Powers’ The Last of the Tribes and began The Stand. Her attention to process moved her to expand her education learning to carve stone in a quarry near Salzburg Austria. “It ended up not being about learning to carve marble, but more about trying to figure out what a stone carver is thinking about.”
       Organized by the Hudson River Museum in cooperation with the artist and Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 2014.

 
Hiram Powers
Eve Disconsolate, 1871
Marble, 77 inches high
Collection of the Hudson River Museum
  Lily Cox-Richard
The Stand: Eve Disconsolate, 2013
Carved plaster, 60 x 26 x 26 inches