An exhibit of American paintings on display at Oakland University shows life during some of the country's most turbulent events, but seeing evidence of that turbulence takes a discerning eye.

Oakland University Art Gallery
Oakland University Art Gallery

An exhibit of American paintings on display at Oakland University shows life during some of the country’s most turbulent events, but seeing evidence of that turbulence takes a discerning eye. 

Forty works of art from 1850 to 1940 from the Nancy and Sean Cotton collection show the lives of privileged society, often neglecting major social issues of the time, including the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. 

“The subversive [paintings] I’ll be highlighting stand out in the artist’s body of work.” – Roy E. Finkenbine

Notably absent from the works, by artists such as Seymour Joseph Guy, Carl Hirschberg, and Thomas Moran, are people of color, immigrants, and the working class.

Professor of History at the University of Detroit Mercy Roy E. Finkenbine says to “look for the people in the corners, in the background, see how they’re presented.” 

Click the player to hear Amanda LeClaire speak with Finkenbine about how to view the art of decades past with a more critical eye.

Roy E. Finkenbine will give a lecture on the exhibit on Thursday, Feb. 20 at noon at Oakland University’s Art Gallery on this exhibit. More information here.

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  • Amanda LeClaire is Host of CultureShift and is a founding producer of both of WDET's locally-produced daily shows. She's been involved in radio and the arts in Detroit for over a decade.