Beauty & Bounty

The loop through Beauty & Bounty (subtitled "American Art in an Age of Exploration") is essentially chronological, a circuit from East to West that ends with photography. Over 100 works are featured, and they lead from from euphoric discovery to SAM's companion show (Reclaimed: Nature & Place Through Contemporary Eyes), which is all about postindustrial disenchantment. The biggest names here—Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Sanford Gifford—enjoyed the best, first views of new aesthetic terrain in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Columbia River Valley. Or, put differently: They were the first to sell and popularize them back East. Paintings are commodities, just as much as coal, timber, and fish. They were in the business of resource extraction—using paint, brush, and early cameras as the tools to convey/capture something suddenly realized to be valuable. What’s interesting in juxtaposing B&B with Reclaimed is what we do and don’t now recognize among them. Gifford’s 1875 view of Mount Rainier, for instance, is framed through hazy pinkish light over Commencement Bay. It’s Rainier, but not quite our Rainier—the contours aren’t right; and the snowline doesn’t fit the season. As with Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, B&B's huge centerpiece, there’s a suggestion of nature as we know it today, but one filtered through a romantic lens. BRIAN MILLER

Thursdays, Fridays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Starts: June 30. Continues through Sept. 11, 2011

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