New High Museum exhibition explores rural America’s place in modern art

Organized by region, the artworks depict the South, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1915 to 1950.

A black-and-white Dorothea Lange photo of a seemingly endless New Mexico road greets visitors of the High Museum of Art’s latest exhibition, Cross Country (February 12 through May 7). The highway is more than just an evocative image; it’s an invitation to journey though early 20th-century America, as seen through the eyes of then-contemporary artists. “When we think of modernism, we associate it with urban spaces,” says Stephanie Heydt, the High’s American art curator. This exhibition showcases modernist works set outside of city limits, from Andrew Wyeth’s fertile Pennsylvania farmland to Maynard Dixon’s Southwestern red rocks to Thomas Hart Benton’s Southern tobacco farms.

Cross Country originated at Pennsylvania’s Brandywine River Museum of Art, but the High expanded the geographic focus and the number of artworks, from 67 pieces to 200. Organized by region, the artworks depict the South, Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1915 to 1950—a period spanning Prohibition, the Depression, and industrialization. The pieces share a common theme, though, says Heydt: “All of this work is about memory and the history of a place as experienced across time.”

Road trip
Some of the pieces featured in Cross Country:

The Midwest

Grant Wood, Appraisal, 1932

Grant Wood (American, 1891–1942), oil on composition board. Dubuque Museum of Art, on long-term loan from the Carnegie-Stout Public Library, acquired from the Lull Art Fund.

The Northeast

N. C. Wyeth, The Drowning, 1935

N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), oil on canvas, 43 x 48 1/8 in. Brandywine River Museum of Art. Bequest of Carolyn Wyeth, 1996.

The West

Maynard Dixon, Red Butte with Mountain Men, 1935

Maynard Dixon (1875–1946), oil on canvas, 95 x 213 in. Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, GA.

The South

Thomas Hart Benton, Tobacco Sorters, 1942-1944

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), tempera on board, 30 1/8 x 36 in. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas. © T.H. Benton & R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

The Mid-Atlantic

Gordon Parks, Ella Watson, American Gothic, Washington D.C., 1942

Gordon Parks (1912–2006), gelatin silver print, 13 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. High Museum of Art, Atlanta, gift of Gloria and Paul Sternberg, 1999.154.1. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation.