Water-skiers draw one into the latest exhibitions to open at the Hyde Collection. Wearing bathing suits and smiles right out of the 1960s, it’s the perfect print to start off “Colorama.”
The 36 images in the exhibit were a part of a long-term campaign created by Kodak. From the 1950s to the 1990s, the company created over 500 large scale images with bold colors and sharp lines and displayed them at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, switching out the images every few weeks.
Coming in at 18-feet-by-60-feet, they captivated in both size and hue.
The panoramics in “Colorama,” most of which are reproductions of those large-scale images, tell the story of an idealized past. Bursting with color, each piece points to a quintessential American ideal or scene, whether it’s sledding in a snow-covered Northeast state, riding horseback through mountainous terrain, or losing with Santa near a Christmas tree.
While the images are from the 1960s, they don’t necessarily reflect what was going on throughout the entire decade. There’s hardly a trace of civil rights activists, of poor people, of feminism activists, etc. The advertisements mostly feature caucasian figures who are glowing with happiness.
Indeed, the models all seem to smile as if they’ve never known anything but happiness and the settings they’re placed support that notion. Take the frenzied scene of Neil Montanus’ “Discotheque,” with the teens dancing in their shift dresses, hoop earrings, button-down shirts and cream-colored pants, as a band plays behind them. Or Norman C. Kerr’s “Family by fireplace,” where a smiling mother takes a photo of her children sitting on their father’s as he reads to them from an easy chair, with the family dog perched on his legs.
There’s an undeniable sense of nostalgia to “Colorama,” though there’s also a sense of intimacy. In just about every piece, there’s someone taking a photo of a scene that they want to capture. Of course, the original intent of these works was once to sell cameras to viewers. But taking the works out of context has removed that intent. It makes the viewer feel as though they’re stepping into the figures’ world for a moment, watching them capture memories with their family or friends.
With pieces like Ozzie Sweat’s “Snowmobile Pulling Nine Sleds, Francestown, New Hampshire,” there’s an energy and a sense of humor that reminds one of Norman Rockwell’s work. In fact, many of the scenes feel akin to Rockwell, though his works make it a point to reflect the zeitgeist of the times (including the civil rights movement) rather than an idealized version of it.
“Colorama” also touches upon an American sense of adventure, taking viewers on road trips and boat trips around the world. One of the first scenes in the exhibit is of a nuclear family—a young boy and girl with their mom and dad—and their dog all piled into a convertible with their hair blowing in the wind as they head toward some adventure.
Nearby, cowboys with chaps, western hats, and bedrolls attached to their horses’ saddles, roam the mountainous Wyoming landscape.
A couple summiting the great Machu Picchu in Peru is captured in a shot that puts them at the center and pans out so viewers can get a glimpse of the stunning view that the couple is viewing in a shot by Peter Gales. While the view is stunning, what strikes one today is how the couple is dressed. The woman wears a skirt and a cardigan and the man a shirt and dress pants, neither look would be considered optimal hiking attire today. Regardless, it adds to the sense of nostalgia and invites one into a different world.
Just outside of “Colorama,” the Hoopes and Whitney-Renz Galleries offers a glimpse at some of the rarely seen works in the Hyde Collection.
There’s a sweeping Winslow Homer watercolor on paper called “A Good One, Adirondacks,” and there’s a captivating Diego Rivera piece called “Woman Carrying Two Baskets.” There are also artists that are less familiar, but whose work is no less mesmerizing, in particular, a woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg called “The Dream of Reason.” A figure is slumped over an open book and appears to be sleeping as several people, along with an owl peer, intensely over the figure’s shoulder.
These, along with 25 others, are a part of “From the Vault: Staff Selections,” an exhibition that gave Hyde employees a chance to curators of sorts. Some staff members wrote about why they wanted to exhibit the pieces they picked, which adds a bit of flavor and personality to the exhibition.
“From the Vault: Staff Selections” will be up until March 31 and “Colorama” will be up until April 14. For more information visit hydecollection.org.