Grandma Moses in the 21st Century, an exhibition of 87 of the most important works by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses from public and private collections in the U.S. and Japan, is on view through June 10, 2001. It examines Moses’ artistic development, her place in the art world at the nexus of folk art, fine art, and popular culture, and the phenomenon of her success.
Moses, a farmer and homemaker from upstate New York who became one of the most respected folk artists of the pre-World War II period, was also one of the first artists to become a media superstar and probably the best-known woman artist of her era. Despite her reputation and enormous popularity, Moses has little visibility in histories of postwar American painting. Exhibition Guest Curator Jane Kallir attributes this paradox to the extremity of her success: “Moses was a folk artist until she became famous, but then she became a popular painter, and her art was dismissed because of its mass appeal.” Grandma Moses in the 21st Century offers an opportunity to arrive at a view of Moses’ achievements that moves beyond that popularity.
Moses (1860-1961) first came to public attention in 1940, at the age of 80, as part of a general burst of appreciation for self-taught art. She combined local lore, memory, and observation to craft a unique folk idiom. As with many self-taught artists, her need to be productive and her love of beauty were strong motivating forces. Moses never received formal training in art and did not begin to paint until she was in her late seventies. Her earliest works were embroidery, but when arthritis made it painful for her to use a needle, she turned to painting at the suggestion of her sister.
Moses was primarily a landscape painter. She was an acute observer of the nuances of season, weather, and time of day, but she was not particularly concerned with accuracy when it came to depicting specific local landmarks or events. Rather than serving merely as nostalgic
reminders of a lost past, or as personal records of Moses’ life, her landscapes occupy an eternal present. Grandma Moses in the 21st Century is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. The national tour has been generously sponsored by AARP.