From the haunting novels of William
Faulkner to the gritty short stories of Flannery O'Connor, the Southern Gothic
literary tradition has exhumed and examined the American South’s unique
mystery, contradictions, and dark humor. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth
century, American writers, epitomized by Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel
Hawthorne, sought to reinterpret the Gothic imagination of their European
counterparts, dramatizing the cultures and characters of a region in the midst
of civil war and its tumultuous aftermath. Decades later, a new generation of
authors—including Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, and Toni Morrison—wove
Gothic elements into their own narratives, exploring the complexities of a changing
social terrain and the ancient spirits that linger in its corners.
With works drawn exclusively from the
Johnson Collection, Southern Gothic illuminates how nineteenth- and
twentieth-century artists employed a potent visual language to transcribe the
tensions between the South’s idyllic aura and its historical realities. Often
described as a mood or sensibility rather than a strict set of thematic or
technical conventions, features of the Southern Gothic can include horror,
romance, and the supernatural. While academic painters such as Charles Fraser
and Thomas Noble conveyed the genre’s gloomy tonalities in their canvases,
Aaron Douglas and Harry Hoffman grappled with the injustices of a modern world.
Other artists, including Alexander Brook and Eugene Thomason, investigated
prevailing stereotypes of rural Southerners—a trope often accentuated in
Southern Gothic literature. Collectively, these images demonstrate that
definitions of the Gothic are neither monolithic nor momentary, inviting us,
instead to contemplate how the Southern Gothic legacy continues to inform our
understanding of the American South.
September 3 –
December 14, 2019
Family Art Museum (upper level)Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 1 - 5 p.m.
Thursday: 1 - 9 p.m.
Closed on Sunday and Monday