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What’s Up at the BMA: Yosemite Meets Sun Mountain

/ What's Up at the BMA

If you think you’ve seen everything the BMA has to offer after just one visit, think again. A mere 12% of the Museum’s collection of 27,000 objects is on view at any given time. Our curators and preparatory team are constantly working to rotate and refresh the gallery spaces, so that every time you visit the Museum you’ll see something different. Each month, we will highlight a new work for you to experience, and show you “what’s up” at the Museum right now.

The entrance to the American gallery was recently updated in a major way. A large abstract painting that was previously in our contemporary gallery now hangs next to Albert Bierstadt’s Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California. You might wonder why this contemporary piece by Helen Frankenthaler and Albert Bierstadt’s landscape painting now hang side by side. After all, what could these two works—painted 103 years apart—possibly have in common?

Although Frankenthaler is not considered a landscape painter like Bierstadt, her compositions—created by pouring thinned out acrylic paint on canvas and finished with brushwork—are deeply rooted in her experience of landscape. As E. C. Goossen explained in a 1969 essay:

No matter how “abstract” Frankenthaler’s paintings get, they never quite lose their hereditary connections with the world of nature and its manifestations. It is because of this that her purely artistic decisions, choice of color and value, drawing, composition, scale, etc., rarely seem arbitrary. Ultimately her personal references are to the real world of nature, to things seen and absorbed which are recognized when they reappear in the painting process.

Like Bierstadt’s Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, Frankenthaler’s Sun Mountain is bathed in golden sunlight. What other references to the natural world can you find in her work? Can you find other works in the BMA collection that have more in common than first meets the eye? Share your thoughts with us by tagging @bhamuseum on social media.