In American Pastoral, the American Dream to which Roth’s text alludes is revealed again as a secular icon—at once lastingly attractive and freighted with numerous and increasingly complex dangers.
From nineteenth-century industrialization to contemporary patterns of immigration, the pursuit of the American Dream has long been a rich topic of inquiry for artists in the United States. For many, this notion is encapsulated by the imagined tranquility and comfort of rural life—an aspiration arising from the Western tradition of landscape painting, with its picturesque, arcadian lands and idyllic communities.
Titled after Philip Roth’s 1997 novel about the social discord that undermines the life of an outwardly untroubled New Jersey family, American Pastoral is a group exhibition that seeks to challenge this idealized vision by delving into the cultural, political, and economic tensions that lie beneath its surface. In this exhibition, modern and contemporary works are juxtaposed with historical American landscapes, ranging from Albert Bierstadt’s depiction of the sublime in Sunset over the River (1877) to Edward Hopper’s tranquil seaside scene, Gloucester Harbor (1926).
In other works, recognizable cultural symbols are rearranged to reveal latent, sinister meanings: Banks Violette’s inverted American flag, from 2019, employs a stark gesture of negation to challenge the power and authority of a ubiquitous image, while Jeff Koons’s bronze Toy Cannon(2006–12), in which the titular weapon sprouts flowers from its barrel, combines visual signs with opposing associations, playing on our expectations of consistent meaning while evoking war and its discontents.
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