Thoroughly Modern 

When Kevin Sharp, a tousle-haired 50-year-old, self-described "Americanist" with 20 years' experience in the museum biz, took over as director of the Dixon Gallery & Gardens in 2008, he immediately announced that the museum needed to rethink its mission.

To grow and evolve in a healthy way, it needed to be more than another stop on the touring exhibition circuit, he said. The Dixon needed to originate its own exhibits and put them on the road.

So far, so good. Emphasis on good. "Modern Dialect," opening at the Dixon May 6th and running through July 15th, is a head-turning (whiplash-inducing?) follow-up to the museum's impressive 2009 exhibit "Regional Dialect."

Like "Regional Dialect," which focused on American Scene painting in the 1920s and '30s, the 50 paintings assembled for "Modern Dialect" come from the John and Susan Horseman collection. Mr. Horseman, a St. Louis businessman and member of the Dixon's board of directors, has made a point of collecting the work of lesser-known 20th-century regional artists who may have studied in New York but produced their work between the coasts. He collects many styles but is especially fond of American Surrealism and Social Realism.

Horseman, who has taken a shine to Memphis and the Dixon, describes good art as a beautiful historical document.

"For me, collecting often comes back to a history of place of some particular historical event like the Depression," he says.

"Modern Dialect" collects a remarkable selection of artists and is a beautiful document of modernism and the American Century, from the economic booms of the teens and 1920s to fall of the Great Depression and beyond.

"Modern Dialect: American Paintings from the John and Susan Horseman Collection" at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens, May 6th-July 15th. There will be an opening-day lecture and interview with the Horsemans on Sunday, May 6th, 2 p.m. dixon.org

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