Exhibition | Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on May 9, 2023

Charles Willson Peale, The Edward Lloyd Family, 1771, oil on canvas, 48 × 57 inches
(Winterthur Museum, 1964.0124 A)

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Having closed in March at the VMFA, the exhibition opens this month at the Frist Art Museum:

Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 8 October 2022 — 19 March 2023
Frist Art Museum, Nashville, 26 May — 13 August 2023

Curated by Leo Mazow

Explore the guitar as visual subject, enduring symbol, and storyteller’s companion. Strummed everywhere from parlors and front porches to protest rallies and rock arenas—the guitar also appears far and wide in American art. Its depictions enable artists and their human subjects to address topics that otherwise go untold or under-told. Experience paintings, sculpture, works on paper, and music in a multimedia presentation that unpacks the guitar’s cultural significance, illuminating matters of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and identity.

Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art is the first exhibition to explore the instrument’s symbolism in American art from the early 19th century to the present day. Featuring 125 works of art, as well as 35 musical instruments, the exhibition demonstrates that guitars figure prominently in the visual stories Americans tell themselves about themselves—their histories, identities, and aspirations. The guitar—portable, affordable, and ubiquitous—appears in American art more than any other instrument, and this exhibition explores those depictions as well as the human ambitions, intentions, and connections facilitated by the instrument—a powerful tool and elastic emblem.

The works in Storied Strings are divided into nine sections: Aestheticizing a Motif, Cold Hard Cash, Hispanicization, Parlor Games, Personification, Picturing Performance, Political Guitars, the Guitar in Black Art and Culture, and Re-Gendered Instruments. The exhibition also features smaller thematically arranged niche spaces, including The Blues, Women in Early Country Music, the Visual Culture of Early Rock and Roll, Hawaii-ana, and Cowboy Guitars.

Storied Strings is curated by Leo Mazow, the Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He has authored and coauthored a number of books, including Edward Hopper and the American Hotel, Thomas Hart Benson and the American Sound, and Picturing the Banjo.

Leo G. Mazow, Storied Strings: The Guitar in American Art (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2022), 264 pages, ISBN: ‎ 978-1934351222, $40.


Alex Nyerges, Director’s Foreword
Lenders to the Exhibition
Guitar Parts Diagram

1  Introducing the Guitar in American Art
2  An American Guitar Primer (Dobney)
3  Hispanicization
4  The Guitar in Black Art and Culture
5  Personification
6  Guitar-Wielding Women
7  Aestheticizing the Motif
8  Cold Hard Cash
9  Political Guitars (Nichols)
10  Wood, Strings, and Stories (Deloria)

Checklist of Works in the Exhibition
Selected Bibliography

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