Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’ Returns to Gotham in Sprawling Retrospective

The iconic work will be in New York for the first time since 1999.

Grant Wood, American Gothic (1930). Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Grant Wood, American Gothic (1930). Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

An icon of Americana is coming to New York for the first time in nearly 20 years: Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) will travel to the Whitney Museum of American Art for the 2018 retrospective “Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables.”

Depicting a stern looking farming couple, American Gothic has become one of the country’s most instantly recognizable artworks, regularly parodied in pop culture. It is undoubtedly Wood’s best-known work.

“But Wood’s career consists of far more than one single painting,” the Whitney insists in the show description. “What the exhibition reveals is a complex, sophisticated artist… Yet underneath its bucolic exterior, his art reflects the anxiety of being an artist and a closeted gay man in the Midwest in the 1930s.”

Grant Wood, <em>Death on the Ridge Road</em> (1935). Courtesy of the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of Cole Porter. Art © Figge Art Museum, successors to the Estate of Nan Wood Graham/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

Grant Wood, Death on the Ridge Road (1935). Courtesy of the Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Gift of Cole Porter. Art © Figge Art Museum, successors to the Estate of Nan Wood Graham/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

The artist hasn’t had a major New York exhibition since 1983 when the Whitney held “Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision.” American Gothic, which was part of that show, also was on view at the Whitney in 1999, during “The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900–1950.”

The painting, which belongs to the Art Institute of Chicago, does not travel frequently; this century, it has only been lent to five museums. American Gothic did just finish its first trip abroad, however, appearing in Paris at the Musee de l’Orangerie, and at London’s Royal Academy, where it was on view until June 4.

Although most viewers generally assume the painting stars a farmer and his wife, Wood actually enlisted his dentist, Byron McKeeby, to pose for the work with his a much younger woman, the artist’s sister, Nan Wood Graham.

Grant Wood, <em>Corn Cob Chandelier for Iowa Corn Room</em>. Courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

Grant Wood, Corn Cob Chandelier for Iowa Corn Room. Courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

American Gothic will be accompanied by some 130 works by the artist in the upcoming show. The presentation will go beyond the 1920s and ’30s paintings of scenes of rural America for which Wood is best known to include early Impressionist works, decorative art and craft objects such as a corncob chandelier, murals, and artwork used for his illustrations for Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street (1920).

“It’ll be a much bigger view of his work than has ever been seen, probably anywhere,” exhibition curator Barbara Haskell told the New York Times. “[Wood is] really this very complicated, elusive figure.”

“Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables” will be on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort Street, New York, March 2–June 10, 2018.


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