The Vilcek Foundation presents its second major exhibition featuring works by American Modernist Ralston Crawford with Ralston Crawford: Air + Space + War. The exhibition, curated by Emily Schuchardt Navratil, is presented in partnership with the Brandywine River Museum of Art, where it opens on June 20, 2021.
Ralston Crawford: Air + Space + War brings together works from the Vilcek Collection alongside generous loans from major institutions and from John Crawford, one of the artist’s sons, to explore the dramatic evolution of Crawford’s work during the 1940s. Across the span of a decade, Crawford’s work shifted from the precisionist styles and forms favored in his works from the 1930s to the graphic and arresting abstract forms featured in his mature series.
During World War II, Crawford served in the Weather Division of the U.S. Army Air Forces. He also continued working as an artist during the war, taking a commission related to the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Plant in Buffalo, New York, and documenting the nuclear weapons tests by the U.S. Joint Army/Navy Task Force at Bikini Atoll in 1946 for Fortune magazine. His experiences in flight provided him with new ways of seeing and thinking about space, composition, and scale.
“Crawford’s experiences during World War II exposed him to the brightest and darkest aspects of humanity. Those experiences established themes that he would explore for the rest of his artistic career,” says Vilcek Foundation President Rick Kinsel. “In his works from this period, Crawford uses the simplest artist’s tools—composition, color, and form—to convey the steamrolling force of military industry, and the cataclysmic threat of the atomic bomb.”
In 2008, the Vilceks acquired Crawford’s painting Bomber (1944) and over the course of the last eight years, the foundation has acquired the most significant collection of material relative to Crawford’s work of the ’40s, comprising 50 paintings, photographs, drawings, and a lithograph. These acquisitions include Crawford’s brilliant rendering of the U.S.S. Nevada (1946), the target of nuclear weapons tests in “Test Able” at Bikini Atoll. These works form the core of Ralston Crawford: Air + Space + War.
“The works in this exhibition, many on view for the first time here, trace the transformation of Crawford’s art and outlook: away from his early optimistic view of industry and toward a disillusionment brought about by the visible and invisible destruction of war,” says Navratil. “The impact of all the destruction he witnessed can be traced through his art to the end of his life in 1978.”
Ralston Crawford: Air + Space + War will be on view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art from June 20, 2021, through September 19, 2021. The exhibition will then travel to the Dayton Art Institute, where it will be on view from October 30, 2021, through January 23, 2022.
A fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition is available from Merrell Publishers, featuring essays by Kinsel, Navratil, Amanda C. Burden, Jerry N. Smith, and John Crawford.
Learn more about the exhibition, Ralston Crawford: Air + Space + War, at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
Read more about the catalogue, Ralston Crawford: Air + Space + War from the Vilcek Foundation.