Galerie St. Etienne
The Galerie St. Etienne's first exhibition of 2002, GRANDMA MOSES: Reflections of America, takes a new look at an artist who, though long considered something of an American classic, has often eluded serious study. Like Norman Rockwell (an artist with whom she is often compared), Moses is today undergoing a critical reevaluation. GRANDMA MOSES: Reflections of America is intended to complement a seven-city museum tour, "Grandma Moses in the 21st Century," which was curated by the Galerie St. Etienne and which will be traveling through 2002. The New York exhibition, which also coincides with the annual Outsider Art Fair (January 25-27 at the Puck Building in Manhattan), includes loans from twenty North American collections.
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Anna Mary Robertson Moses--affectionately known to friends, family and eventually the entire world as "Grandma" Moses--was born in upstate New York in 1860. She spent her entire life on farms there and in Virginia, living a life that involved plenty of hard work and more than its share of outright hardship and loss. With little time to indulge a childhood love for picture-making, Moses turned to art only in old age, when her domestic duties had diminished. At first her hobby seemed nothing more than a frivolous indulgence, but in 1938 a traveling collector named Louis Caldor chanced upon her paintings in a local drugstore, where they were displayed as part of a "women's exchange." Much to the bemusement of the artist and her family, Caldor vowed to make Moses famous, and he set about showing her work to New York gallerists. He had little success, however, until 1940, when he visited the recently established Galerie St. Etienne. Moses's first one- woman show opened there in October of that year, under the unassuming title "What a Farmwife Painted."
Grandma Moses was not (as has sometimes been said) an overnight success, but by the mid 1940s she had begun to enjoy national renown. She was the first artist to be taken up by the post-war mass media, benefiting from such relatively new technological marvels as television and live-remote radio broadcasts, as well as from the older vehicles of print and film. An outpouring of Moses products--fabrics, plates, greeting cards, print-reproductions and best-selling books--brought the artist's work into millions of ordinary homes. She was feted by President Truman and featured in traveling shows sent by the U.S. Government to war-torn Europe. Moses became a Cold-War-era icon, a personification of American values. To the American public, shaken by the recent memory of World War II and the new possibility of nuclear annihilation, Grandma Moses was a beacon of hope. Combining stylized, almost abstract images of bygone rural customs with extraordinarily evocative and realistic landscapes, her paintings symbolically linked past and present, depicting them as an unbroken--and implicitly unbreakable--continuum that served to secure the future.
It has now been forty years since Moses's death in 1961, at the age of 101. While the artist's personal celebrity has inevitably faded, the passage of time has helped bring her paintings to the fore. Grandma Moses proved so enormously influential on other self-taught artists and especially on children's book illustrators, that the origins of this ubiquitous "primitive" style are sometimes forgotten. However, few of Moses's many followers are her equal in vitality or originality. And Moses's message of hope and faith in America remains as cogent in today's world as it did in the Cold War years.