American Art

Exploring a country through its paintings

The summer before I began high school, my family took a road trip from Kansas to Chicago. After ten and a half hours of driving, the vast Midwest landscape of wheat, corn, and cows gave way to the skyscrapers of the city. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. This was one of my first exposures to modern and contemporary art. I was intrigued by the humor and strangeness of the work in the contemporary gallery, including the massive silkscreen of “Mao” by Andy Warhol. The questioning attitude and rebellious approach of the paintings, sculptures, and installations appealed to my adolescent self.

The museum’s American collection was a quieter revelation. I got lost in the light and angles of an Edward Hopper canvas and fell in love with the smooth colors of Georgia O’Keeffe’s abstractions. My favorite paintings had an intense but calming beauty — an altogether different feeling from the irreverent energy of the contemporary works.

Since that formative vacation, the art museum is always one my of first stops in visiting a new city. In the comic above, I’ve curated my ideal collection of 20th-century American art. Here’s a list of works in order of appearance:

Jasper Johns, “Flag”

Edward Hopper, “Morning Sun”

Ellsworth Kelly,”Red Blue Green”

Wayne Thiebaud, “Refrigerator Pie”

Grant Wood, “Young Corn”

Roy Lichtenstein, “Whaam!”

Stuart Davis, “Colonial Cubism”

Andy Warhol, “Campbell’s Soup Cans”

George Bellows, “Dempsey and Firpo”

Jackson Pollock, “Autumn Rhythm”

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Sky Above Clouds III”