News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 4, 2012

Swope celebrates vision of first director in anniversary exhibit


Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As the highlight of the Swope Museum’s 70th anniversary celebrations, the Swope Art Museum presents “Dual Visions: John Rogers Cox, Artist and Curator,” which celebrates the achievements and contributions of Terre Haute native Cox, noted artist and the museum’s founding director. The exhibition is on view Friday through Dec. 29, in the museum’s Haslem and Hodge galleries.

The exhibition is organized in two parts that explore Cox’s work as an artist alongside the important collection he purchased for the museum, including paintings by Edward Hopper, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles Burchfield and Grant Wood. In the 1940s Cox gained national recognition for haunting rural landscapes such as the Swope’s “White Cloud” (1943, repainted 46) which won third prize in the important 1943 Carnegie Institute annual exhibition American Paintings and toured in the 1945-46 Encyclopedia Britannica Collection of American Paintings exhibition.

For a time in the 1970s and 1980s, however, his work fell into obscurity. Recently, interest in this undervalued artist has been reignited by the appearance, on the market, of rare paintings and inclusion in important exhibitions such as “To Make a World: George Ault and 1940s America,” a 2011-2012 traveling exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institute of American Art. “Dual Visions” includes many works on loan to the museum that are seldom publicly displayed. Executed in painstaking detail, Cox’s paintings are often categorized as surreal or magic realist for their combination of realism and dreamlike elements.

As the first director of the Swope, Cox was charged with acquiring a collection for the new museum. His decision to concentrate the fledging institution’s purchasing power on works by living American artists made the Swope one of the earliest museums in the country to focus on 20th-century American art. The national and international recognition that the Swope’s collection of American art receives today is in good part because of Cox’s remarkable series of acquisitions.  

The Cox exhibition is part of the museum’s yearlong 70th anniversary celebration, which began in March. Accompanying “Dual Visions” will be an interactive timeline representing the history of the museum in a wider context. Visitors are encouraged to reminisce and make contributions to the timeline.

Another key anniversary element is a stunning new guide to 70 works in the museum’s permanent collection, created by art scholar and former Swope curator Laurette McCarthy. It is the first such overview in 30 years. McCarthy’s research took her across the country to archives, galleries and museums, where she mined the expertise of scores of art historians and collectors who provided rich and sometimes surprising information about the 70 Swope treasures. The Chicago photographer, Michael Tropea, a specialist in capturing images of fine art, provided the accompanying photos.

The catalogue, “Swope Art Museum: Selected Works from the Collection,” is available at the museum or can be ordered online at www.swope.org.

Nearly 12,000 people visit the Swope each year to enjoy the permanent collection and special exhibits and attend programs such as Family Days, the Summer Youth Art Program and First Friday presentations. Admission is always free.

Open and free to the public since 1942, the Swope Art Museum houses one of the Midwest’s premier collections of American painting, sculpture and works on paper. Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, Charles Burchfield, George Bellows, George Luks, John Sloan, Mary Fairchild MacMonnies, Harriet Frishmuth, Frederick MacMonnies, Anna Hyatt Huntington and Robert Rauschenberg are all represented in the Swope’s collection, which spans the early 19th century to the present. The Swope, 25 S. Seventh St., is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday; and closed Sunday, Monday and National Holidays.

Call 812-238-1676 or visit www.swope.org