Richard Estes’ Realism
1st floor West, American Art Museum
(8th and F Streets, N.W.)
October 10, 2014 – February 8, 2015
Richard Estes is considered the foremost practitioner of the international group of artists known loosely as photorealists and has been celebrated for more than forty-five years as the premier painter of American cityscapes. Richard Estes’ Realism is the most comprehensive exhibition of Estes’ paintings ever organized. The exhibition features nearly fifty paintings from Estes’ first mature New York City facades from the late 1960s to panoramic views of Manhattan and other cities and natural sites around the world. Jointly organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, the artworks in Richard Estes’ Realism are selected by Patterson Sims, an independent curator, and Jessica May, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Portland Museum of Art. Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is coordinating the exhibition in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition explores the full range of Estes’ career. Widely acknowledged as a master of contemporary realism, Estes’ sharply focused technique goes beyond the photographic to create complex constructions of light, reflection, and perspective. Paintings in the exhibition balance Estes’ interest in the urban with images of the coast of Maine and the woods on Mount Desert Island, where he has spent part of each year since the late 1970s. Most recently, Estes turned from luminous sunlit scenes to nocturnal images of New York City. Several of his rare portraits also are included in the exhibition.
Estes’ compositions—amalgamations of the multiple photographs he takes for each image—are dramatic and complex to the point of ambiguity. He layers and merges multiple viewpoints to create dense and detailed scenes. Though figures are often present in his work, they are—like most passersby in public spaces—anonymous and uncommunicative. His seemingly effortless technical finesse captures the intricate geometries of the city, the subtle contours and nuanced tones of natural landscapes, and the shimmering fluidity of water. Estes’ realism is a compelling record of the appearance of the urban and natural environments in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.
Richard Estes’ Realism is accompanied by a catalogue with critical essays on Estes’ practice by exhibition curator Patterson Sims and Jessica May, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Portland Museum of Art. The book also includes a detailed chronology by independent art historian Helen Ferrulli. It is forthcoming from Yale University Press.
The exhibition will be on view at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine from May 22, 2014 through September 7, 2014 before traveling to Washington, D.C.
Richard Estes' Realism is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Portland Museum of Art, Maine. The museums thank the following donors for their generous support of the exhibition: Gabrielle Bekink and the Honorable Rudolf Bekink, Isabelle and Scott Black, Thelma and Melvin Lenkin, The Lunder Foundation – Peter and Paula Lunder, Debbie Frank Petersen, the Walter and Lucille Rubin Foundation, Holly and Nick Ruffin, and John Wilmerding. The accompanying catalogue is supported by Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, Marlborough Gallery and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art.