The Nelson-Atkins Gallery's website is here, and it features a number of pictures from the exhibit. The museum has also put together a book of the show, which you can buy on Amazon.com.
Richard Woodward has written a review of the exhibit for the Wall Street Journal, which I will include below, since it is part of the paper's pay content (thanks for the link, Itchy):
KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- At the burning heart of the Industrial Revolution was the white-hot power of steam. From the 1780s to the end of the 19th century, transportation and manufacturing were altogether reimagined to harness this ancient but suddenly practical source of mechanical energy. Some of its efficiencies remain useful today, as steam turbines continue to generate about half of the world's electricity.
No application of the new technology, however, rattled the status quo so much as the steam-powered locomotive. With each improvement, its speed and reach shattered limits of space and time. Millions of acres of wilderness were cleared for hundreds of railway lines. Timetables enslaved travelers to the clock as never before. (By 1883 American railroads had divided the country into four time zones, decades before the government made the concept official.) Stations and railroad cars forced people together even as they reinforced their division into classes.
The train was at once a symbol of engineering acumen, a wonder of the age, and a sign of progress run amok. As Thoreau wrote, "we do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us."
"Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America, and the Railway, 1830-1960," the timely exhibition now at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo., presents more than a century of ambiguous responses by artists to this intrusive phenomenon.
In a feat of smart editing, co-curators Julian Treuherz and Ian Kennedy have reduced the vast material available in museums and archives to about 100 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs. Although organized by theme -- starting with early developments of train travel in Europe, continuing with the transcontinental push across North America, and ending with the Machine Age in the 1920s -- the show also devotes rooms to the Impressionists and the Surrealists, groups for whom the railroad was a symbol of both menace and comfort.
Going from room to room here, one sees the immediate attraction that the subject offered in formal terms for artists of all sorts. A thick plume from a smokestack adds a dash of action to any picture. Parallel lines of track lead the eye in sensuous curves through mountain passes and underscore the drama between the shaping hand of man and God's creation.
Among the show's highlights is a first-rate group of paintings by French masters from the 1870s: four by Monet, two by Caillebotte (his voyeuristic "On the Pont de l'Europe" from the Kimball Museum in Ft. Worth as well as his unfinished "Landscape With Railroad Cutting" from a private collection), and Manet's much written-about "The Railway (The Gare Saint Lazare)," in which a seated governess looks up from her book to study us while a young girl in her care gazes through iron bars at a Parisian rail yard.
Less celebrated figures deliver more unexpected pleasures. Thomas Talbot Bury and John Cooke Bourne were British artists who specialized in views of railroads. Examples of their work here, dating from the 1830s, show the tunnels and bridges needed for a rail system. It wasn't just the steam locomotive but the infrastructure supporting it that transformed landscapes and cities.
Reginald Marsh's American realism has lost much of its original bite. But in "Pavonia -- Jersey City" from 1928, he shows in no uncertain terms how steam trains burst through old neighborhoods and tore them into new ones. The Italian Impressionist Giuseppe de Nittis usually veers in the opposite direction, romanticizing everything he touches. But a Sicily landscape from 1878-79 is anything but sugary: Two peasant women toiling in a field are overwhelmed by billows from a passing train, a glowing spot of distant red that only heightens their lonesome drudgery.
The railroad barons financed artists to portray their businesses in a favorable light. Carleton Watkins, whose mammoth-plate views of the West are among the glories of American photography, was subsidized by Collis Huntington. The owner of the Central Pacific Railroad even arranged to shuttle Watkins and his cameras up and down the coast in a private train. The curators have also selected paintings by George Inness and Albert Bierstadt, who in the 1850s to 1870s were similarly commissioned to put railroads on canvas, provided the trains were small and moved through bucolic settings.
The social drama of rail travel is represented here by Daumier's famous cartoons illustrating the gaps between first-, second-, and third-class accommodations (and passengers). But just as interesting are the chaotic scenes of departure at the stations, in which many groups were thrown together. Augustus Egg's "The Travelling Companion" from 1862 depicts two young Victorian ladies in a railway carriage. One sleeps as the other reads -- a reassuring but unrealistic scene, the curators suggest, as trains at the time were deafening.
As the railroads expanded, so did their urban stations, which at their grandest were like cathedrals in their scale and fenestration. Angelo Morbelli's "Milan Central Station" from 1889 captures the celestial light inside these airy sheds, as does a shimmering photograph of London's Paddington Station by Bert Handy. Elliott Erwitt's photograph of the steel rails leading to the entrance of Auschwitz, on the other hand, conveys how the interlocking train network can quickly become an agent of domination and terror.
Together, this array of work describes an arc familiar from the history of other relics of the Industrial Age. Factories and warehouses are now choice dwellings for young professionals, who pay extra for a view of canals where coal barges once docked. The anxious excitement that greeted the introduction of the railroad, and that peaked with its acceptance into the routine of the commuter, eventually passed into nostalgia as the steam locomotive become obsolete. O. Winston Link's staged 1956 photograph of a steam locomotive racing past a drive-in movie theater closes the exhibit and a chapter in American technology.
Too many curators these days fatigue museum-goers in a noble effort to be thorough. That's not the case here. I left refreshed, wanting more. My cravings were satisfied where they should be, and at a more leisurely pace, in a group of outstanding essays for the catalog published by Yale University Press.
One quibble: Mr. Trueherz and Mr. Kennedy have ignored the work of William A. Bell and other photographers hired to survey the West in the 1860s and 1870s. All of the prints here show the landscape after tracks were laid. One reason photography became a tool of increasing commercial value everywhere was its ability to help planners decide where the railroad should go before workers arrived with picks and shovels.
It's a pity that loan restrictions and insurance costs will prevent "Art in the Age of Steam," which originated in England at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, from moving around the country. More cities should have had the chance to host this well-thought-out survey. It looks splendid in Steven Holl's 2007 addition to the Nelson-Atkins. Lucky students of art and history will find it stationed there until Jan. 18, 2009.