A new exhibition will exemplify the concept of the broad brush when it opens at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts at the beginning of this month. Whether it can, or even means to, offer any new definition of its subject is less certain: "Made in America" spans one thousand years and several different cultures with just 160 objects selected from the permanent collections of the five participating museums and comes with a glamorous package of the mildly misleading publicity which tends to accompany every superficial but potentially popular event. It describes the exhibition as "inclusive and intriguing"; it "moves beyond the standard survey of American art", and promises a catalogue which will be "an unequalled survey of art in the United States from prehistory to modern times".
For the record, the exhibition will be divided into eight sections: Ancient America; Colonial and Federal America; Democratic Vistas; American Impressions; Native American Art; Artistic Interiors; the Modern Age; and Art After World War II. To use one example as evidence of the character of the exhibition, this last category purports to cover contemporary art but completely ignores developments of the last twenty-five years. Instead, it presents this critical chapter with just eight paintings (Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly and Chuck Close); three sculptures (David Smith (2), Alexander Calder); fourteen photographs; two pieces of furniture and five other works of decorative art. "Woman IV" (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art) and "Woman VI" (Carnegie Museum of Art), two of Willem de Kooning's original six canvases created in 1950-53 and arguably the most valuable contemporary paintings to be found in the collections of the five participating museums, have not featured in the organisers' selection. Were they considered to be too powerful for the tastes of the exhibition's presumed audience which might prefer to digest its cultural history in a TV dinner box?
"Made in America" will be shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (5 February-30 April); the Saint Louis Art Museum (16 June-4 September); the Toledo Museum of Art (13 October-7 January 1996); the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (17 March-19 May 1996); and the Carnegie Museum of Art (6 July-22 September).
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'America defined?'