Jasper Johns. Andy Warhol. Ed Ruscha. Willem de Kooning.
They are some of the most widely known postwar artists to work in the United States.
Works by them and other leaders of artistic thought and expression in the past 60 years are part of “Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection,” an exhibit opening to the public today at Joslyn Art Museum.
The exhibit includes 70 artworks selected from more than 400 paintings, sculptures and photographs Landau gave to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 2010. Joslyn curator Karin Campbell calls the show the “most extensive survey of modern American art to ever visit Nebraska.”
Landau began her collecting career in the 1960s, acquiring works by modern masters, many of them from Europe, Campbell said. But by 1987, she had switched her focus to American artists, especially emerging artists she met or whose studios she was able to visit.
When she gifted the Whitney with her art, she stipulated that a portion of the collection travel so more Americans could be exposed to contemporary art, Campbell said.
Chances are many of these artists will be new to Joslyn visitors. Robert Maplethorpe and James Rosenquist are known names, but Neil Jenney, Gregory Crewdson and Nan Goldin probably are not.
Visitors will be met by a huge painting by Ruscha, “The Art of Letting a Person Into Your Home,” on one wall and an iconic pop art piece by Warhol, the 100-foot-by-100-foot “Myths,” on another. They set the tone for what is to come.
Beyond that point are works by artists who always seemed to be looking at art in new ways, turning accepted art norms on their head or making political and cultural statements.
Making points on racism, AIDS and war are such artists as Nayland Blake, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and David Wojnarowicz.
Painting is well-represented. Jenney, Eric Fischl, Cy Twombly, Mark Tansey and Carroll Dunham came up with exciting ways to use the medium. Agnes Martin, Sherrie Levine and John McLaughlin are minimalists. Goldin, Peter Hujar and Matthew Barney work with portraiture.
Crewdson, Matthew Barney and Rodney Graham use photography to make their points. Maplethorpe, known for confrontational, controversial works, has a piece in this exhibit, “Chest,” that is almost abstract and “pretty,” for lack of a better word.
Ruscha, Carl Andre, John Baldessari and Barbara Kruger play with the written word. Pop art is the calling card of Rosenquist and Johns, in addition to Warhol.
In fact, there are so many styles, media, themes and artists represented, every visitor will find something to like — and probably something to hate.
And that's what art is supposed to do. Artists want to get people thinking and talking.
But the main reason to see this show is to be exposed to artists rarely seen in Omaha and the paths they have followed since the 1960s.