Art History Reports: Connecting the World, Panama Canal at 100

As with my Escher review, this entry took a long time for me to actually edit the notes I wrote into a coherent article.

Now that I have overcome this block, more entries similar to this one will be published in the future, hopefully.

Because I worked as a photographer for a small business conference, I had a chance to see the Panama Canal exhibit in 2014 at the Mint Museum Uptown before it was opened to the public.  Decorating the walls with quotes recounting the Panama Canal’s history, this exhibition was dedicated to art remembering Panama before and after the Canal’s building.

To start, I saw paintings by Frederic Edwin Church and Louis Rémy Mignot that celebrated the environment.  In the painting, Landscape in EcuadorI noticed that Mignot followed the Renaissance model of creating backgrounds.

Frederic Edwin Church, Rainy Season in the Tropics, 1866

By Scuttlebutte [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
If you look at Rainy Season In the Tropics, you can see a tiny person in a red poncho.  This reminded me of what an art history professor once said that East Asian landscape paintings sometimes included tiny people as a way to acknowledge how grand nature can be compared to a human.  Having seen Church’s work in person, I find that next to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, his paintings has this 3D effect one can see without wearing 3D glasses.  Finally, looking at Martin Johnson Heade‘s paintings, it always looks as though the sky is on the verge of breaking out into a torrent of rain in his landscapes.

I also learned about artists I had never heard before.  Artists such as Alson Skinner Clark and Joseph Pennell, two people whose art figured prominently in the exhibit.

For historical context, the museum explained that Panama was seen as the New World and part of the natural path to go “from ideal to industry”.  I do not remember if this was a quote from the show, but I am going to play it safe.  Globalization acted as the main theme of the exhibit and was seen in a positive light.  The exhibit did touch on the consequences that emerged from the building of the Canal.  One example of such a consequence was by recent artist Mel Chin and his Memento Mori piece called Sea to SeeFurthermore, the exhibition did paint a disturbing picture of Yellow Fever.  Finally, the show waffled between calling land exotic and accusing artists of reinforcing that very stereotype.

Update 7-15-2018:  Decided to rewrite my sentence citing Renaissance era art.  I think I did not accurately explain the embedded link’s information all that well.

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