Pictura Gallery

New Americana

New Americana : National Play Group Show

Distinctively American cultural expressions surface in active group participation and performance, like the gathering of civil war re-enactors, or in more common acts, like a community simply showing up to the bandstand for a summer concert. This exhibit explores contemporary versions of some commonly nostalgic parts of American culture. We look at ways that people express identity by participating in groups. In particular, we’ve become fascinated with groups located at a distinct intersection, a performed expression of identity, and something quintessentially American. But what does “American” mean in this context? Is it an aesthetic or an attitude, a tradition, a set of beliefs?

As a society, we often create a national narrative by mythologizing our country’s history. “Young President Washington cutting down the cherry tree” becomes a fable where the moral of the story is the American value of hard work and patience. The same could be said of our narrative about President Lincoln- that there is the opportunity in this country for a person from humble beginnings to turn himself into a great man, that men are not born into greatness, but rather are self made. Greta Pratt’s Lincoln impersonators are able to live that myth, that story and sentiment by donning the costumes, and enthusiastically assuming the role. They make these abstract concepts of our national identity into something we can live and feel. They put the past into present tense.

Although many of these activities are woven with threads of national consciousness, their expression is not necessarily the primary goal of the participants. It may not be on the football player’s mind as he takes the field – that he represents something quintessential to American culture, but his daily performance keeps the tradition alive, and his participation in the group sustains a lineage larger than himself.

*In using the term “American” we are here referring to the culture of the United States.

Exhibition Archives