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Museum Minute: Object Lessons

As the Princeton University Art Museum constructs a new building (set to open in 2024), more than 100 works of American art from its collection are traveling the country. The exhibition “Object Lessons in American Art” will premiere at the Georgia Museum of Art. Drawn entirely from Princeton’s collections, it uses works of Euro-American, African American and Native American art created between the 18th century and the present to ask fundamental questions about artistic significance and how meaning changes across time, place and context.

Organized by Karl Kusserow at Princeton University Art Museum, the exhibition focuses in particular on race, gender and the environment. It arranges its works of art in 30 separate groups, each intended to provoke new considerations and raise timely questions about American history and culture. These juxtapositions serve as quote unquote object lessons, or gatherings of tangible artifacts that communicate an embodied idea or an abstract concept. The objects seem to debate with one another about the country’s complex social, racial and political history, thereby expanding our ideas about American art history. For example, one section features three iconic portraits of George Washington, including one by Rembrandt Peale that shows Washington as a godlike celebrity. It also includes a photograph by Luke C. Dillon of the ruins of slave quarters at Washington’s home to remind us of the complexities of the man and his legacy.

“Object Lessons in American Art” is made possible by the leadership support of the Terra Foundation for American Art and is on view February 4 through May 14.