SAN MARINO >> When it first opened 30 years ago, The Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art comprised 50 paintings. But The Huntington has more than 12,000 objects now — and more of them will be on display soon in newly expanded galleries.
The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens added five rooms totaling 5,400 square feet to its Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art. The extra space allowed for 116 new, borrowed or stored objects to be displayed.
A larger sample of American art will give people an opportunity to explore important themes in greater depth, said Jessica Todd Smith, the gallery's chief curator.
“There are few places that take this approach of incorporating American Art from 1900 all the way into the 20th century in so many different media,” Smith said. “So we have on display painting, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings and photographs in great depth and over a greater amount of galleries than some of our sister institutions, also which have wonderful collections.”
In total, The Huntington will open 21,000 square feet of American art gallery space to the public on July 19. The five new rooms were previously used for storage in the Lois and Robert F. Erburu Gallery.
Eighteen American art rooms are organized in chronological and thematic groupings to trace the evolution of art in the United States from the colonial era into the late 20th century.
Recent acquisitions in the new installation will include works by George Bellows, Arthur Dove, Frederick Hammersley, Tony Smith and Charles White. The new pieces focus on items made in the last century with representatives of the Ashcan school, Social Realism, the Depression era, modernism, geometric abstraction and Pop Art.
Five years ago, The Huntington didn't purchase anything finished after 1945, Smith said. But because the American art galleries doubled in size in 2009, curators were allowed to bring in more contemporary pieces, such as Andy Warhol's “Small Crushed Campbell's Soup Can (Beef Noodle)” and “Brillo Box.”
In addition to five new rooms, The Huntington also significantly reinstalled three adjacent American art galleries, said Kevin Salatino, Hannah and Russel Kully director of the art collections at The Huntington.
Although The Huntington is best known for its British collection, its American art collection is quickly joining the ranks of the finest repositories of American art in the United States, Salatino said.
“We're in an exciting moment for The Huntington, particularly for the continuing evolution of American art,” Salatino said in a statement.
Those who cannot see the artwork in person could purchase the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art's 30th anniversary commemorative book: “American Made.”
A new room devoted to photographs will display a rotation of 500 prints Edward Weston shot between 1937 and 1939. The installation will focus on some of his finest landscapes of California and the West.
“They've rarely been seen because they're light sensitive and need to rest, but they'll be rotated here at least for the first year,” Smith said.
Other notable pieces, Smith said, include Sargent Claude Johnson's screen for a pipe organ, which was originally carved for the music hall of the California School for the Blind in Berkeley, Calif, and Arthur Dove's “Lattice and Awning.” Dove was credited with making the first nonrepresentational painting in the U.S.