by John Stoehr
A years-in-the-making exhibit by the Gibbes Museum of Art that looks at American history by way of images of slave plantations is receiving critical acclaim.
Called Landscape of Slavery: the Plantation in American Art, the show is currently on display at the University of Virginia's Art Museum in Charlottesville through April 20. It will return to Charleston on May 9 just in time for Spoleto Festival USA. After closing Aug. 3, the exhibit to travel the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta.
Peggy Carlson, a critic for the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free-Lance Star, said the exhibit and the accompanying book will appeal to anyone interested in the history of "race relations" in America.
The book — edited by Angela D. Mack and Stephen G. Hoffius — is the perfect fusion of art and history on two topics fraught with contradictions since America's beginnings.
Does the word "plantation" bring to mind a large home on beautifully landscaped grounds with the master and his family on the front porch--or the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of enslaved Americans who labored to maintain the plantation and serve the master?
These and other complex issues are presented in this splendid analysis of interpretive response to the plantation — and slavery — in American society.
Fredric Koeppel, a book critic for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, noted why the image of the southern plantation is still running strong.
In America, the word 'plantation' long ago assumed the most nefarious connotations as the nexus of the Old South's economic dependency on the cruelties of slavery and of the extension of that cruelty into the notorious tenant-farming system that replaced slavery during Reconstruction. Yet it's possible to view the Southern plantation through the distorting lens of symbolic nostalgia, as in Gone with the Wind, book and movie.