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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the storage room at the Terra foundation for American art looking at a painting by child Hassim horticultural building World's Columbian Exposition what we're looking at is the grounds of World's Fair that was held here in Chicago in 1893 sometimes it's called the Columbian Exposition because it was supposed to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage to the Americas Hassim is showing us just one of the buildings on what was a huge space many buildings built just for this World's Fair this was a truly spectacular event and it was the architecture and the grounds that captured people's attention the World's Fairs were the occasion for countries to demonstrate power advance they were in terms of architecture in terms of art in terms of industry everything and only the second time that this young country was able to host a World's Fair the building that we're looking at is the horticultural building and the critics at the time were saying that this building had every specimen of plant in the world and we know that can't be true but we do know that they were taking examples of exotic palm trees and other kinds of plants and putting them on display so it's not just art it's not just machinery it's also the natural world that gives us a great sense of the incredible ambition of this World's Fair and some of the greatest architects of the day were involved in building the architecture and creating the landscaping we know child Hassim was in Chicago before the fair opened he's here to create images that will be used in souvenir brochures and things like that so there was an enormous reservoir there were canals bridges there were buildings that looked like they were made of marble and stone that gleamed the light the fair got the nickname of the white city it seemed to people to be almost a cross of Rome and Venice and you see it looked like marble because most of the buildings are actually made of stucco and plaster and they are meant to be temporary and yet visually for the fairgoers it would be as if they arrived in a magical destination and as we look at this painting we feel very much invited to walk into the fair and we have a pathway that opens before us benches people strolling toward us the horticultural building with the flags and the grounds look so beautiful they're lush Hassim has done a wonderful job especially because you have to know he did invent some of this he had the architectural drawings in front of him he had seen the building on its way but he had to invent what would it be like to be there and he creates an inviting friendly safe place there's a woman and child in the foreground they look exhausted they've been walking everywhere so he tries to give us that sense that we too could be visitors to this fair we think about paintings in this impressionist style the late 19th century this loose open brushwork that looks very sketchy with this emphasis on bright colors and an interest in light and atmosphere we think about the artists who painted in that style painting on plein air that is painting outside and directly from nature and yet Hassim is inventing this largely in his studio it's true and some of his paintings were painted outdoors but in this particular painting perhaps that's the difference between that carefully rendered building that doesn't seem sketchy and quickly painted and the foreground that is more as we say impressionistic because of this loose brushwork just at this time Frederick Jackson Turner explains his entire thesis in fact Turner delivered the frontier thesis at the World's Fair this idea that the frontier had been so important to the creation of an American identity this continual move westward in this creation of an American character because of the frontier but Turner also talks about how that period of American history has ended and so the white City this exposition points to a new moment for America to reimagine it's cities and something else that happens at this particular fair is that the American art on display gets a lot of attention it is as if the critics in this country can finally say American art has made something of itself and Hassim doesn't exhibit this work at the fair but he does have other paintings on view and he is among his colleagues exhibiting in this fair that receives international attention so the world comes to Chicago in 1893 and Chicago assumes a comport ins in the world thanks to the World's Fair [Music]