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A Feeling of Humanity:
Western Art from the Ken Ratner Collection

September 26, 2014 – January 25, 2015

Organized by The Rockwell Museum with the Mattatuck Museum, A Feeling of Humanity: Western Art from the Ken Ratner Collection celebrates the art of the western United States. The exhibition of 74 works, including paintings, works on paper, archives and ephemera by 38 artists demonstrates artistic response to the distinctive western landscape and to the unique characters the area has produced. The West has been a defining national symbol during much of America’s history. Although considered a region by Euro-Americans, the West was also a myth, a dream, an inspiration and a destination. As the title indicates, the major theme of the exhibition is “spirit of community.” Drawn from the collection of Ken Ratner, the art integrates a multitude of traditions: landscape, portraiture and character study, animal pictures, domestic and urban scenes and Native Americans.

Mr. Ratner collects works that reflect compassion and understanding—an empathy—for western life: a weathered grain elevator standing tall and proud over the plains, a farmer who pauses for a moment’s rest or a landscape where one feels the deep respect the artist has for the terrain. He looks for western images not only by artists at the big Western Shows, but by women artists and minorities as well.

Exhibition Opening Reception
October 1, 2014
5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Members: Free, Not-Yet-Members: $10

Click here to make reservations


Meet the Collector

Ken Ratner, a private collector based in New York City, has a fascinating back story. A man of modest resources, Ken recently started his third important art collection. After quietly building a fine collection of Ashcan and Regionalist American art in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and also forming a collection of European prints by late 19th and early 20th century masters, Ken started collecting contemporary Western art in 2011. Through careful purchases, Ken’s collection currently stands at more than 60 paintings, drawings, and prints. Along with the contemporary pieces, Ken has also collected a few choice historic Western and Regionalist works that compliment, and contrast, his contemporary works.

While there are some larger masterworks included, Ken’s collection is so fascinating precisely because he tends to collect paintings modest in both size and price. Despite their size, the overall impact of the collection is impressive. Ken’s collection underlines the democratic nature of art and collecting, spotlights the great American West, and celebrates America’s common humanity.

Ken Ratner was born in New York City in 1953 and lived in Texas and California before returning to the city in the mid-90s. From an early age, he began to draw focusing on portraits, but later street life and the urban poor would become his primary subject matter in both his drawing and photography. He took evening sketch classes at the Art Students League in New York City in the 1980s, and would regularly study artwork and photographs in museums, galleries, and art books.

Ken is a self-taught photographer whose principal field of interest is the urban city, particularly its derelict aspects that one often shuns, ignores, fails to notice or avoids. Yet in these out of the way places, he discovers a rich humanity in keeping with his long-time interest in the work of the Ashcan School artists from the turn of the last century. Like many of those artists (John Sloan, Jerome Myers), Ken is similarly inspired to go into the streets to seek out an inherent beauty in commonplace subjects. He aspires to incorporate into his photographs some of the keen observations that these artists recorded. Ken also draws inspiration from the urban scenes of photographers Berenice Abbott, Walter Rosenblum and Helen Levitt.

“In photographing street scenes, black and white is my medium of choice. The medium allows for clearly defined and dramatic effects, and is well suited for emphasizing light and shadow. Balance is a critical aspect. One of the first things I do is to look at the four corners of a picture. It’s vital to me that a picture be properly balanced. I concentrate on capturing scenes of the lower class and their environment. I find that these residents tend to reveal themselves in a more natural way than those living in affluent sections. Above all, it is my hope that people viewing my photographs will find them interesting and humanistic. I have tried to express this in my work.”

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