Andy Warhol, Andrew and James Wyeth, Alice Neel, Nelson Shanks and 17 other nationally acclaimed painters were featured in Artists of the Commonwealth: Realism in Pennsylvania Painting, 1950-2000, September 29, 2001 – January 6, 2002, at the James A. Michener Art Museum. The exhibition explored the tradition of Realism as a direction for select Pennsylvania artists in the latter half of the 20th century.

The Tradition of Realism
America’s first museum and college of art began with the founding of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1805, and its tradition of Realism exerted a significant influence on artists, educational institutions, collectors and museums throughout the 19th century. However, by the mid-20th century, Realism was considered passé, as Abstract Expressionism swept across the American art scene and established New York as the center of the art world.

The Artists
Many of the artists of Pennsylvania would continue to follow the tenets of Realism into the later half of the 20th century and it is from these artists that a consortium of museum staff throughout the Commonwealth chose the 22 artists whose works were represented. They included:

  • Bo Bartlett
  • Patricia Bellan-Gillen
  • Diane Burko
  • Ray DeFazio
  • Martha Erlebacher
  • Rob Evans
  • Benedict Gibson
  • Sidney Goodman
  • Barkley Hendricks
  • Ben Kamihira
  • Harry Koerner
  • Richard Mayhew
  • Sarah McEneaney
  • John Moore
  • Alice Neel
  • Peter Paone
  • Philip Pearlstein
  • Nelson Shanks
  • Andy Warhol
  • Neil Welliver
  • Andrew Wyeth
  • James Wyeth

The Exhibition
This exhibition investigated Realism in the work of painters from the Commonwealth who reached their mature style after 1950 and were either born in Pennsylvania, educated here, or have been long-time residents. Each artist’s work is firmly based on the foundations of representational art, and each has contributed to national movements in modern art.

The works selected represent the broad range of styles that exist within Realism — from the sharp focus and absolute clarity of Photorealism, to the fantastic and symbolic realism drawn from the subconscious, to the simple representation of bold design elements in color and form.

‘The strong heritage of Realism among Pennsylvania painters is deeply rooted in the Commonwealth’s artistic academies, which have emphasized the traditional artistic skills of figure drawing and landscape,’ said Bruce Katsiff, Michener Art Museum Director/CEO. ‘We are pleased to present the work of these acclaimed Realist artists and to be part of this unique collaboration of regional museums.’

Artists of the Commonwealth was Pennsylvania’s first statewide traveling exhibition partnership and collaboration, and was initiated by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and organized by the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, the James A. Michener Art Museum, the Erie Art Museum, and the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Local sponsorship was provided by Commerce Bank.