'Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art' Examines the Impact of Plantation Imagery

January 04, 2008
Jan. 4, 2008 — The University of Virginia Art Museum opens the special exhibition "Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art" on Friday, Jan. 25. On view through April 20, the exhibition is organized by Angela D. Mack, deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., and guest curator Maurie D. McInnis, director of American Studies and associate professor of art history at the University of Virginia.

This groundbreaking exhibition offers a comprehensive, interdisciplinary examination of plantation images in the American South. It features more than 75 paintings, works on paper, photographs, mixed media and installation works. Through the eyes of a range of artists such as Winslow Homer, Carrie Mae Weems, Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Edwin Harleston, Kara Walker and Romare Bearden, "Landscape of Slavery" examines depictions of plantations, plantation views and related slave imagery in the context of the history of landscape painting in America. "More than a history of the visual imagery related to the plantation, the show invites one to consider the impact that this imagery has had on race relations for three centuries," said Mack.

A genre predominantly tied to the Southern region of the United States, the plantation view has traditionally received marginal attention in the study of American landscape art. Previous work on the plantation subject has emphasized the debt the genre owes to 18th-century British aesthetic theories and styles. In recent years, however, art historians have worked to identify general shifts in plantation iconography that reflect specific historical events. Meanwhile, plantation views have attracted the attention of social historians, who have identified the genre as a rich source for exploring issues of wealth, power, race, memory and nostalgia. "Landscape of Slavery" seeks to bring these current discussions on the topic together for the public’s consideration.

Angela D. Mack will give a Gallery Talk on Friday, Jan. 25 at 1 p.m. in the museum. The talk is free and  open to the public.

The U.Va. Art Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. For more information call (434) 924-3592 or visit www.virginia.edu/artmuseum.

"Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art" is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. It is made possible at U.Va. with the generous support of the Ceres Foundation, the U.Va. Art Museum Volunteer Board, the Provost's Arts Enhancement Fund, and the Carl H. and Martha S. Lindner Center for Art History at U.Va.'s McIntire Department of Art.

Following its premiere in Charlottesville, the exhibition travels to the Gibbes Museum of Art, where it will be up from May 9 through Aug. 3, and the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Ga., where it will be on view Aug. 23 through Oct. 19.

About the Book

"Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art"
Edited by Angela D. Mack and Stephen G. Hoffius
(University of South Carolina Press/January 2008)

Serving as a companion to the exhibition of the same name, "Landscape of Slavery" draws upon art history and social history to illustrate the complexities of the American South. "Landscape of Slavery" undertakes an original study of plantation images from the 18th century through the present to unravel the realities and mythology inherent in this complex and often provocative subject.

Through 92 full-color plates, 16 black-and-white illustrations and six thematic essays, the book examines depictions of plantation structures, plantation views and related slave imagery and art in the context of the American landscape tradition, addressing the impact of these works on race relations in the United States. Contributors to the volume are Alexis L. Boylan, Michael D. Harris, Leslie King-Hammond, Angela D. Mack, Maurie D. McInnis, Roberta Sokolitz and John Michael Vlach.  

Related Educational Programs

A series of informal Lunchtime Gallery Talks will explore different aspects of the exhibition. All will be held in the museum.

  • Feb. 13, 1 p.m.: Maurie McInnis, guest curator and associate professor, McIntire Department of Art
  • March 12, 1 p.m.: Carmenita Higginbotham, assistant professor, McIntire Department of Art
  • March 18, 1 p.m.: Andrea Douglas, curator of collections and exhibitions
  • April 9, 1 p.m.: Christopher Oliver, art history graduate student
  • April 16, 1 p.m.: Catherine Malone, art history graduate student
  • Exhibition Symposium: March 13-14. Details to come.