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Mark Harden's Artchive: CD-ROM Reviews

American Visions

See also: Abstract Expressionism; American Art

American Visions: Journeys Through Art, Act One

Published in 1994 by Eden Interactive, 224 Mississippi Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

This review, along with the accompanying screencaptures, was contributed by Helga van Vondelen, Leiden, the Netherlands

This cd-rom was bought on an impulse, because it has a photo of Georgia O'Keeffe on the cover. When I got home and expectantly put it in my computer, I was really disappointed: aside from the photograph, only one of her paintings and some quotations, that was all....
On closer inspection however, it appeared that my impulsive buy turned out to be quite a gem! Almost 200 works of art from the Neuburger Collection, which together offer a truly impressive overview of 20th century American art.

As a European (Dutch) citizen, my art education has been completely dominated by all the widely known Italian and French masters. Until a few years ago I didn't even know American art existed, let alone that there could be something called American art history... Well, since I extensively studied this cd-rom, my ignorance (maybe prejudice?:-) has become past history. So I would recommend it to everyone outside the US who wants to get educated, and maybe also to US-ers who want to familiarize themselves with their own art history. Test yourself: do you know all there is to know about the Ash Can school, Hoffmann's diagram, the difference between biomorphic and geometric abstraction, the Stieglitz group and Bay Area figurative painting??? If not, buy this cd-rom and be surprised at the enormous quantity of information, the great variety of artworks and artists and the superb quality of the works of art and the way they're displayed. According to one of the makers, Minoo Saboori, the artwork wasn't compressed at all, so that's why the images are so good. Take one look at this detail of a selfportrait by Milton Avery and you'll see what I mean....
The Neuburger Collection consists of about a thousand works of art, mostly paintings, but also sculpture, collages, prints and drawings. It is considered as one of the best collections in American art , but is not (yet?) widely known. The artworks can be seen 'live' in the Neuburger Museum of Art at the State University of New York at Purchase. Roy Neuburger went to Paris in the twenties and saw how the works of dead painters were sold for thousands of dollars, while the painters themselves had often lived in poverty because of lack of recognition. He went back to the US and decided to spend his money (he got rich in the stock market) on buying works from living artists. When this cd-rom was produced he was already in his nineties but still remembered vividly all the details about the artists, the artworks and why and when he bought them. You can see and hear him (and a lot of the artists themselves too) on more than 40 QT-movies.

There are numerous ways to get access to the 189 works of art on the cd-rom. My advice would be to skip the tour-guide (a fast spoken, very confusing and much too elaborate narrative, with the cursor moving too fast, so in the end you can't remember which button is supposed to do what...) and trust your own common sense. It's really quite simple...
The most important screen is the browse screen. At the bottom you can choose your preferences: do you want to see the works of art in chronological order, in alphabetical order or by school of art? Whatever way you choose, you'll see the works of art displayed in the top row, photographs of the artists in the second row, quotations by the artists, Roy Neuburger or leading art critics on the third row, and the last row consists of a kind of timeline: what kind of general political and societal events took place at the time the artists made his or her work and which art-themes or -styles were important in that time-period.
When you want to get a closer look at a painting or sculpture, you can get an almost full-screen display (you can even choose wether or not you want to see a caption!), but you can also make a number of (thumbnail-) links appear. This is where it gets really interesting. As soon as you click on a link, an image appears in the top left corner of the screen. This way you can see a painting and a detail of that painting (or a photograph of the painter, or a different painting of the same artist) at the same time. The images can easily be swapped, so you get the top left picture on the foreground. Then you can click and get more links. By using these links, you can actually surf through the whole collection! (it's actually quite a bit like the www) Try it out, and you will make amazing journeys and end up looking at artworks in a whole new way.... If you are interested in specific themes or styles in art, like landscapes, or precisionist artworks, you can look for the appropriate thumbnail at the fourth row of the browse screen, and by clicking on it make a themes-screen appear. By clicking on the links-button, you can then get access to all the related artworks.
Some of the sculptures are displayed in QT-movie-format, so they can turn around and be viewed from all angles. This has a definite disadvantage however, because the images are rather small and not very detailed. Nevertheless, it gives an extra dimension to the artwork.

Thanks to my promise to write this review, I have repeatedly grazed, browsed and surfed around the collection, and have grown increasingly fond of it. The cd-rom didn't come cheap (well over $50) but I find it good value. Until I have saved enough money to come and visit the Museum I will cherish this cd-rom and definitely put it among my favourites. In the title it says: act one. I am anxiously waiting for act two!

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