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Vassar students consider Alfred Leslie's portrait of Jane Elford in the 1968 exhibition, Realism Now.

Sesquicentennial Snapshots: Realism Then

Along with Vassar College, the Art Center is celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of our founding. In this weekly feature, we will look back on the rich 150-year history of the collection. Today’s post comes from Nicole M. Roylance, Coordinator of Public Education and Information.

“Realism… has been relegated to the limbo of philistinism: the propaganda machines of Soviet part hacks or the sentimental platitudes of Saturday Evening Post covers,” Linda Nochlin boldly stated in the catalogue for Realism Now. This spring 1968 exhibition at the Vassar Art Gallery was the outcome of a senior seminar, led by Nochlin and Mary Delahoyd. As part of the course, students “were responsible for going to various galleries and selecting and helping to select the works of the appropriate artists and statements.” The artists they interviewed and presented in the exhibition included Alex Katz, Don Nice, and Alfred Leslie.

In her catalogue essay, Nochlin asserts that the realism of the late 1960s was not the lingering influence of Courbet or the Ash Can school. These were not artists holding on to outmoded ways of thinking, but instead artists looking with fresh eyes on the world around them. Nochlin cites the impact of photography and television on how people experienced life, “Their close-up vantage point, radical cropping, and randomness of distribution are related to the dispassionate intimacy of the TV screen…” These artists were literally seeing things in new ways and reflecting the new “look” through their paintings.

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