American art is as diverse as the nation itself. NOMA’s collection spans the country’s historical evolution and diverse ethnicities, from pre-Columbian Native American tribal art to cutting-edge contemporary works that express the freedom of unbound creativity. Listed here are ten must-sees spread throughout our galleriesl and the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (c. 1800)
This iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828) is one of the most mass-produced and recognizable paintings of the lauded general and America’s first president—even serving as the basis for the image on the one dollar bill. The Washington portrait is part of a newly reimagined permanent exhibition of decorative arts at NOMA. The painting is paired with a selection of colonial-era American furniture.
Georgia O’Keeffe, My Backyard (1937)
Georgia O’Keeffe’s (1887–1986) paintings combined influences from the modern art she saw in her early career in New York with the unique culture and scenery of the desert southwest, where she resided for the last four decades of her life. Titling this painting My Backyard, O’Keeffe called forth an intimate connection between self, landscape, and nation. As O’Keeffe wrote, “One cannot be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.”
Andy Warhol, Diamond Dust Shoes (1981)
Andy Warhol (1928–1987) was a keen observer of American pop culture in the twentieth century, and like Robert Rauschenberg and Joseph Cornell, he often drew inspiration from found images sourced from magazines and advertising. To Warhol, bejeweled stilettos symbolized the opulence and utter impracticality of an American consumer culture he both adored and condemned. In Diamond Dust Shoes, Warhol embraces the glitz and glamor of American consumption while at the same time exposing the darker side of conspicuous consumerism.
Manierre Dawson, Classic Relief (1938)
Manierre Dawson (1887–1969) was one of the first abstract artists in America and in contention for creating the first American abstract painting. Originally a civil engineer, Dawson incorporated many geometric shapes and designs into his artwork. Ending his life in obscurity and struggling financially, Dawson made his art from what was available: cement, caps of lumber, and in this case a piece of plywood carved and covered in oil paint.
Alfred Boisseau, Louisiana Indians Walking Along a Bayou (1847)
Born in Paris, American/Canadian artist Alfred Boisseau (1823–1900) spent two years in New Orleans during the 1840s while his brother served as secretary to the French consul. While in Louisiana he took particular interest in the state’s Native American population. The 1830s and 1840s witnessed the passage of the Indian Removal Act and devastating human rights abuses against Native Americans. The rapid disappearance of Native American culture was the subject of considerable international concern.
Stuart Davis, Rocks, Gloucester (1915)
In 1915, artist Stuart Davis (1892–1964) summered in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where he became drawn to the rugged New England coast and the weatherbeaten town of fishermen. He returned for years thereafter, and Davis’s Gloucester work established him as an integral part of the development of American Modernism. He had already been influenced by his New York teacher Robert Henri who was one of the first American artists to concentrate on painting everyday life and its tumult.
Robert Indiana, LOVE Red Blue (1966–1997)
One of many copies of the famous LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana (1928–2018) is found in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Originally created as a print for the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas card in 1966, it later became three-dimensional. The artist wrote in 1969, “The LOVE sculpture is the culmination of ten years of work based on the original premise that the word is an appropriated and usable element of art, just as Picasso and the Cubists made use of it at the beginning of the century, which evolved inevitably, in both my ‘LOVE’ paintings and sculpture, into the concept that the word is also a fit and viable subject for art.”
Carlos Rolón, Paraiso de la Dulzura (2016)
Carlos Rolón (b. 1970) is a Chicago-born son of Puerto Rican immigrants. His current solo exhibition at NOMA pays homage to the immigration experience and the commonalities found between New Orleans, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Paraiso de la Dulzura replicates the makeshift jardinières Puerto Ricans often create using reclaimed cinder blocks in lieu of standard pots. Showing flowers growing up around materials we typically associate with the creation of walls, this instillation challenges the idea that borders or barriers are necessary to seperate diverse cultures.
Claude Clark, The Javelin (1942)
Playing a pivotal role in African American art as both an artist and educator, Claude Clark (1915–2001) developed the first curriculum for a college-level African American studies course and organized early exhibitions of African American contemporary art. The Javelin, as well as many of Clark’s works, emphasizes strength, purpose, and a sense of pride in African American heritage.
Will Ryman, America (2013)
This large-scale, gold-painted log cabin assembled on the second floor of the museum evokes the humble pioneer boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln as an iconic emblem of American socio-economic conflict during the Civil War and its eventual transformation. . The interior features a kaleidoscopic assemblage of items representing the industries and economies that built the United States. Built as a chronicle of capitalism in America, this structure features everything from cigarettes to coal and cotton to candy—all painted a luminous shade of gold.
“Log cabins are an iconic symbol of America, but I didn’t just want a symbol,” artist Will Ryman (b. 1969) told The Times-Picayune in 2013. “To me it’s important that my cabin is made from real logs and that everything inside it is also real. It’s an appropriated object, a conceptual sculpture, but it’s also a showcase for objects that have a lot of meaning when you gather them in abundance and put them together: the arrowheads and the bullets are sculpted objects, too, forms made for a purpose.”
NOMA intern Philip Carbo contributed to this list.