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American art gets respect at museums nationwide

May 30, 2009 |  8:49 am

American art at Huntington 

Is it a national coming of age? A thirst for new artistic territory? A critical mass of art that has made its way from private homes to public museums?

Whatever the reasons, American art is finally having its day at major museums across the country.

Once considered the ugly stepchild of a Eurocentric art world, artworks made by and for Americans -- from Colonial times to the mid-20th century -- have blossomed into beautiful members of the family in sparkling new galleries. Stern portraits of American forefathers, verdant Hudson River landscapes and gritty scenes of the Great Depression keep company with marble sculptures, period furnishings, silver and ceramics in fresh installations accompanied by glossy brochures and audio guides.

A prime example is at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. Best known in art circles for its 18th century British portraits, the Huntington today will unveil the newly renovated and greatly expanded Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. The $1.6-million project, designed to give the rapidly growing American art collection more space and visibility, combines the original American gallery with the Lois and Robert F. Erburu Gallery, a streamlined, 4-year-old structure by Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher.

And the Huntington has lots of company. Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened its extensively remodeled American Wing, part of a $100-million makeover, with great fanfare and the blessing of First Lady Michelle Obama. Late last month, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., launched an elegant multimillion-dollar expansion of its American galleries.

These projects come on the heels of refurbishments at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Detroit Institute of Arts. And there are more to come. Next May, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond expects to complete a major expansion with added space for American art, including the bequest of a $100-million collection. Later in the year in Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts plans to open an American Wing as part of a huge building project.

To read the full story, click here.

And to read art critic Christopher Knight's review of the Huntington's new galleries, click here.

-- Suzanne Muchnic

Photo: "Zenobia in Chains," a monumental 1859 sculpture by Harriet Hosmer, dominates a refurbished American art gallery at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times