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Discussion by David C. Ward, co-curator of “Hide/Seek” and Historian at the National Portrait Gallery.

After a tumultuous three decades during which America looked outward, Americans began to look inward in the 1930s, emphasizing traditional virtues instead of cosmopolitan modernism. Grant Wood, painter of the iconic “American Gothic” (1930), became the best example of this school of home-grown realism. Wood had had a difficult time as an art student in France, and he returned to his native Iowa in 1926 with relief. But it would be a mistake to see his working in an American style as a retreat from modernism. Instead, he took traditional subjects and updated them with an understanding of psychological complexities; he was a notable satirist of American pieties, and his landscapes are so stylized that they become abstractions.

In “Arnold Comes of Age,” the wistful youth set against the homoerotic scene in the background suggests the tension and difficulties faced by gay men, such as Wood himself, who stayed in Middle America.

"Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" was on view at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, from October 30 through February 13, 2011 For more on the exhibit, visit the exhibit website at: http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/hideseek .

Grant Wood (1892-1941) Oil on board, 1930 Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, NAA-Nebraska Art Association Collection

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