Off the Beaten Track: A Road Trip Through the Archives of American Art

By the Archives
December 7, 2017

The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, (the Archives) presents a new exhibition from its expansive collection showcasing material from every state and the District of Columbia. Opening December 8, 2017, Off the Beaten Track: A Road Trip through the Archives of American Art features video recordings, photographs, sketches, diaries, and correspondence dating from 1830 to 2006. Together they reveal how artists have shaped and are shaped by their surroundings, illuminating uniquely American narratives state by state.

The selection provides unexpected insights into local and regional histories, as well as personal stories about the artists. Further, the exhibition offers a glimpse into the diversity and depth of art-making in the United States—including art-world luminaries and lesserknown practitioners—and the extraordinary holdings of the Archives.

“While it is impossible to encapsulate any state in a single item,” said Kate Haw, Director of the Archives of American Art, “Off the Beaten Track offers a fascinating road map highlighting intriguing aspects of the country’s artistic identity. Each document tells a compelling, multi-layered story about American history, artists’ lives, and regional characteristics. Our hope is that visitors to the Gallery and Archives’ website will encounter some wonderful surprises.”

Among the highlights is a photograph of Jackson Pollock (1912‒56), an artist associated with New York’s Long Island, as a young man in Arizona. During the summer of 1927, Jackson Fruit jars being sterilized, Conway, 1938. Photograph by Dorothea Lange. Farm Security Administration (FSA) selected records and photographs, 1935-1942. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. 2 and his brother Sanford joined their father’s land surveying crew and helped build a dirt road to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. In this snapshot, the Pollock men contemplate a remarkable vista still inaccessible to most Americans.

A color photograph taken by Joan Bankemper at a Maryland raceway depicts the sculptor Salvatore Scarpitta (1919‒2007) zooming by in one of his self-built race cars. His sponsor’s name, the legendary art dealer Leo Castelli, appears prominently on the car’s exterior. The Leo Castelli Gallery records are among the most requested collections in the Archives.

For a Bronx subway station, influential Nuyorican artist Juan Sánchez (b. 1954) created a brightly colored faceted glass work titled Reaching Out For Each Other. His collage mock-up on display, features evocative imagery of human hands.

A striking photograph by Shin Koyama highlights architect Marcel Breuer’s “jewel on the prairie,” the spiritual campus of the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery in Bismarck, North Dakota. In the 1963 photograph of the completed project, two Sisters converse in the modern cloister. Precast, concrete “vees” carry the weight of the cloister roof and frame sweeping views of the Great Plains.

On view through June 3, 2018, in the Lawrence A. Fleischman Gallery in the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (8th and F Streets) in Washington, D.C., the exhibition features a wall-size mural of a photograph by Colin de Land, taken from the driver’s seat of his car, giving visitors the sense of embarking on a journey.