Baubles, Brutality And Buff

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Unbelievably opulent decorative works, unsettling photographs of contemporary atrocities and an overview of the history of the nude in American art are the dominant themes in major exhibitions at Connecticut art venues this summer.

At Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, savor the dreamlike elegance of great masterworks of French decorative art: fantastic art objects, luxurious jewels and household goods fit for a king or queen.

If you prefer to have your social conscience raised, you can visit the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven to ponder nightmarish photographic portraits of violations of the American Western landscape. All were said to have been perpetrated, of course, in the name of progress, national defense and commerce.

If you prefer art that focuses on the topography of human flesh, travel downstate to Greenwich's Bruce Museum of Arts and Science. More than 50 revealing artworks trace the evolution of the nude figure's gradual liberation from academic constraints and America's time-honored traditions of prudery and moral censure.

The Atheneum's celebration of luxurious French design, "Matières de Rêves: Stuff of Dreams from the Paris Musée des Arts Décoratifs," runs through Aug. 11. Among its more than 100 show-stopping, dazzling objects is a spectacular clock that graced the mantelpiece in Marie Antoinette's bathroom in the Tuilleries Palace.

Yale's reflections on the depredations on our landscape are presented in three concurrent exhibits. Each sounds a powerful cautionary note about how humans have defaced the earth. Desecrations range from an ominous, abandoned nuclear reactor site to voracious urban sprawl.

Running through July 28, the three exhibitions are: "Emmet Gowin: Changing the Earth, Aerial Photographs"; "Robert Adams, What We Bought: The New World, and Lewis Baltz: Park City Contemporary Photographs"; and "Looking at America."

With "The Great American Nude," the Bruce presents an overview and analysis of the nude in American art from Colonial times to the present. Ranging from the idealized classicism of Benjamin West to the graphic - some claim pornographic - realism of contemporary photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the show opens June 15 and runs through Sept. 8.

If you're looking for an unabashedly upbeat exhibition and a happy museum ambiance this summer, you'll find it at the historic Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme.

The museum, a shrine for American Impressionism, inaugurates its new gallery on July 2 with an exhibition of masterworks from the collection donated to it last spring by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co.

"The American Artist in Connecticut: The Legacy of the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection" opens with a bang on the Fourth of July weekend and runs through June 22, 2003, in the museum's new riverside gallery.

The William Benton Museum of Art on the University of Connecticut's Storrs campus presents yet another view of the historic American West. "Window on the West: Views from the American Frontier/The Phelan Collection" runs from June 11 through July 26. The touring exhibition portrays how life in the West was lived on a daily basis, rather than how it has been romanticized.

The New Britain Museum of American Art, in cooperation with the Benton, presents an Impressionist show. "People and Places: Childe Hassam and Maurice Prendergast" runs from June 27 through Sept. 22.

Yale Center for British Art presents a show bearing the summer's most intriguing title, "Cooking the Books." And, no, it doesn't have anything to do with Enron.

Instead, the exhibition, which runs from June 15 through Sept. 8, celebrates Ron King and his Circle Press, an alliance that has made beautiful, creative books for 35 years.

King has collaborated with more than 100 artists, writers and poets while making Circle Press an innovative force in the world of artists' books. Fabricated from all sorts of materials - paper, wood, metal, stone, glass and wax - the Circle Press creations push the concept and definition of the book to the limits.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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