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Tiny Treasures: Self-taught Folk Artist a Must-See at the Whitney

Second Nexus

America is Hard to See

That’s the title of the current exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The name comes from Robert Frost’s 1951 poem of the same name, originally published in The Atlantic magazine. In the poem, Frost takes Christopher Columbus to task for not recognizing the enormous possibilities of his “discovery.” Instead, Frost considers Columbus a negative role model for future generations of Americans who

 … would have to put our mind
On how to crowd and still be kind.

Reading these lines, one can’t help but think about the crowds pouring into the Whitney since the new building opened in May. Renzo Piano’s design beautifully showcases the collection (of its 22,000 pieces, about 650 are on display) and, from its patios and capacious windows, the city itself.

With so many works from the permanent collection now on display, it’s hard to take it all in. Like Frost’s America, smaller works in the exhibit are “hard to see.” So you could easily miss gems like the two untitled drawings by Idaho-born James Castle.

Untitled (Farm Scene with Road)                      Untitled (Interior with Stove and Wood Box)

 

Located on the seventh floor, right next to Grant Wood’s study for the mural “Breaking the Prairie” (in the room of the same name), reside these unpretentiously eloquent drawings. Each is less than a square foot in area and depicts a rural scene (one interior, one exterior) from artist James Castle’s life. With very little education (and no formal art training), Castle created thousands of such drawings over 70 years. They display a mastery of perspective that accurately portrayed the world he saw around him. His work is all the more remarkable because of the material Castle used to create them: soot and spit on found paper.

To read more, continue to the next page. 

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