The Circus Comes to Town
April 28, 2009 – September 24, 2009
Ruth Ann Wefald Gallery
The circus, rich in drama and action, has attracted many artists, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Honoré Daumier. This summer you can visit the circus through art in the collection of the Beach Museum of Art.
“The Circus Comes to Town,” a display of over twenty works from the museum’s permanent collection, features acrobats, clowns, and circus animals portrayed by American and international artists—among them Kansans John Steuart Curry and Lester Raymer, French painter Georges Rouault, and Indian artist Krishna Reddy.
Curry traveled with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey troupe during its 1932 season—his tour probably arranged by trapeze artist Alfredo Codona. The resulting works included many drawings and a series of paintings of clowns, elephants, and acrobats, including the Ringling’s famous Flying Codonas. Curry told a reporter in 1933, “The circus is one of the most colorful phases of the American scene. I am immensely drawn by the excitement and movement.”
Raymer loved circuses and carnivals as a child, and he often followed them from town to town in Oklahoma. As an adult he attended the circus yearly—including the Ringling Brothers Circus when it came to Salina—and he would spend the entire day sketching animals and performers. Raymer’s clown subjects were also influenced by Commedia dell’Arte characters, including the zany Harlequin and sad Pierrot.
Reddy took his daughter Apu to the circus and was inspired by the color and action in the rings. In one visit he saw nearly one hundred clowns arrive at once, and he sought to capture his experience of trying to look at each of them in a series of abstracted mixed-intaglio prints.
“The Circus Comes to Town” is the theme of summer programming at the museum, including its summer school session for USD 383 and Manhattan Parks and Recreation and summerARTSmart children’s classes. Books and additional materials on the circus are available at the museum’s mobile Exploration Station, located in the galleries. Summer programming is funded by education grants from the Kansas Arts Commission.