Monday, April 9, 2012

9 Museums, 30 Days

We had clear objectives when we plotted the roll-around. We had known of the work of George Ohr, the mad potter of Biloxi, but had missed the opportunity to visit his studio before Katrina struck. We were elated to hear that a new studio rose on the shore and retained examples of his work. That was our intended end point. The best laid plans are always subject to change and so it was.

The first stop was Asheville, N.C. Carrie had made the Skyline Drive potter's studio tour some 20 years ago. Now there were collection points where galleries have assembled works from those studios making the work more accessible. The most impressive gallery, in scale, in Asheville is Blue Spiral 1. The story is told of a John Cram who comes to town when it is broke and buys a lot of real estate. He opens the store fronts individually and then integrates the second stories creating a gallery of enormous proportions. This space defies easy description as it is as much museum as gallery. In that regard we were blindsided by the discovery of an artist that we mooned over. Will Henry Stevens

is finally gaining some recognition and the curators of the gallery made us feel less ignorant by screening a movie for us of the man considered the greatest unrecognized artist in the country. We were told that they were the controllers of his estate and that a major portion of his work was held by the Ogden Museum in NOLA. More later.

We had planned to stop in Chattanooga Tn. but the weather closed in around us so we hightailed it to Texas. The cliches are easy. Big Texas money, buys big art, and if you stop there you miss the point. Yep downtown Dallas is dominated by big money museums, but, as you know, the entire country is developing communities with art district themes. In Dallas the hot new gathering place for the young, the hip, and the creative class is the Bishop Arts District.

There we met people, in the great tradition of the best travel is a pinball game, who touted us onto FT Worth. Cowtown? Really? Off we went. Let wiki describe the overview of what it feels like to be on the campus of the: Ft. Worth Cultural district

  • The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, founded in 1892, is the oldest art museum in Texas. Its permanent collection consists of some 2,600 works of post-war art. In 2002, the museum moved into a new home designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando.
  • The Kimbell Art Museum houses works from antiquity to the 20th century. Artists represented in its holdings include Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Picasso, Vigée-Lebrun, Matisse,Cézanne, El Greco, and Rembrandt. The museum's home was designed by American architect Louis Kahn.
  • The Amon Carter Museum of American Art focuses on 19th and 20th century American artists. It houses an extensive collection of works by Western artists Frederic Remingtonand Charles M. Russell, as well as an impressive collection of 30,000 exhibition-quality photographs. It also includes works by Alexander Calder, Thomas Cole, Stuart Davis,Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, and Alfred Stieglitz. American architect Philip Johnson designed the museum's home, including its expansion.
  • The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is the only museum in the world that is solely dedicated to honoring women of the American West who have demonstrated extraordinary courage and pioneer spirit in their trail blazing efforts.
  • The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History - One of the largest Science and History Museums in the Southwest. It includes the Noble Planetarium and the Omni Theater.
  • Will Rogers Memorial Center - a multi-purpose entertainment complex and world-class equestrian center housed under 45 acres (180,000 m2) of roof spread over 85 acres (340,000 m2) in the heart of the Fort Worth Cultural District. Each year approximately 800,000 people attend the three week event known as the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, formerly called the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
  • Casa Mañana - The nation's first theater designed for musicals "in the round". A controversial renovation completed in 2003 turned the once unique "House of Tomorrow" into a traditional theater and abandoned the round design. The building's unique silver dome remains.
  • Museum Place is an 11-acre (45,000 m2), mixed-use development in construction that includes ground level retail, office space, and residential space. The main buildings in this development will be an eight-story brick and glass low rise, a modernized flatiron style building and a new post office that will feature damaged metal from the 2000 tornado as an art display.
  • 7th Street is the main street for the cultural district, since it will feature the Museum Place development, the existing residential So7 and Montgomery Plaza, West 7th (another mixed-use development which will feature office, residential, retail, hotel, and a movie theater), and there are even talks of a streetcar route in the near future.

We stopped in the Amon Carter.

What happened there proved to be indicative of what happened throughout the journey. The employees, volunteers, the staffs of these spaces all, to a person, went out of their way to approach us, assist us, engage us in discussions of what we were about. They were as interested in us as we them. So in the case of the Amon Carter which was mounting a huge installation of Charles Russell watercolors, the curator and author of the book/catalogue of this show was bulk signing copies for later sale. He stopped what he was doing and we talked about the rigors of mounting such an exhibition. He had time for us.

Years ago, when we all lived in D.C. Walter Hopps was as approachable as he was affable. When he got the commission to curate the Menil in Houston in the late seventies we all pledged we would visit. It took us 30 years to fulfill the promise. The deMenils intended this collection of buildings to be in and of the neighborhood.

They achieved that end by buying most of it and retaining the character of the housing stock which includes studios, study centers, and lecture spaces. The effect is to integrate their collections into the city in a way I have never experienced. The world class architecture doesn't promote ART is here and you are smaller, it levels the viewing field, making the art all the more democratic. It is also free.

Off to Louisiana, MardiGras, Lafayette style, a living, breathing, collection of many arts in many forms. Of the people, for the people, by the people.

The exhibition Hard Truths, the works of Thorton Dial had travelled from Indiana to the NOMA.

All, so called outsider art, challenges you to think hard about what the process of art making, collecting, and what the business is all about. Mr. Dial was the subject of a 60 minutes interview years ago and when it was over he hit the roof because of what he interpreted as the slight of having so called experts pigeon hole him as naive, or uneducated. He withheld his work for years.

The Ogden

in downtown NOLA had a few paintings by Stevens on exhibition but not as many as we had hoped. It seems they don't respect him as much as they might given history of his life in New Orleans. So it goes. And then the second aha! Why had I, a minor in American art history, never heard of Enrique Alferez. Once before the art market had been explained to me as having limits. When discussing the colorists of Washington D.C. of whom 6 were prominent, I was made aware there were others but no room for them in important exhibitions. So while we know of the top three Mexican born muralists we know less of Mr. Alferez. We are thrilled to fill in the gap.

Down the road a piece and we were finally at the Ohr-O'Keefe museum. Do click here as no still pic can do justice to what you find along the road. I'll skip Bilbao Spain for Biloxi. A four acre campus of American Museums designed by Frank Gehry. Oh Yeah.

Finally to Chattanooga to see if the hype that another major industrial disaster area can be reborn. Don't take my word for it. For me the magic of America writ large is the ability for and the execution of second acts. Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Oakland. Now add Chattanooga to the list.. It would do better if it was named Ile something, or Casa something. It will have to stand on its American roots. And stand it does. Flying off a cliff above the Tennessee River is the Hunter Museum. The new wings clearly owe a dept to the Gehry look as stainless steel clads the building and bent wood defines the interior spaces. A fabulous collection of American art graces these walls and gives the town an identity that vaults it squarely into the 21st century.

For all of highs, the oohs and aahs, the discovery of new places and spaces, I am still burdened by a gnawing knowledge of how this world operates, and how little the majority of us realize that what we experienced was built on the backs of the American taxpayer. Read this brief history of Andrew Mellon, the benefactor the National Gallery of Art. What you are not told is that he was being pursued by the fed on tax evasion charges regarding art. It may just be a coincidence that he endowed the Gallery at exactly the same time a grand jury was convened, and that subsequently the charges were dropped. What we do know is the tax code allows the following: A member of the 1% buys a collection of works of art by a relatively unknown artist. Of course the art is on the cheap. He prevails upon a museum to accept a piece as a gift. The painting will appear in a new acquisitions exhibit. The artist's value is now enhanced as is the collection of the buyer. The buyer waits. Other museums want to own work by this artist. His portfolio grows. The original buyer watches as his collection's value skyrockets. He has choices. One of the most profound is to donate a big chunk either in his lifetime or upon his death and gain the tax deductible value of the gift, at its current value. So let's use real numbers. Painting bought for 1000 dollars. Painting donated at value determined by museum (the beneficiary) is now 250 thousand dollars. Tax benefit now applies to other income to the tune of 250K. We make up the difference.

In addition we are asked to pay admission to most of these institutions. It is one thing for a modern deMedici to commission a work, pay for it, enjoy the market value appreciation, or the self aggrandizing. It is quite another for us to run to the museums and reinforce the process of making all of them yet wealthier. Leave a buck at the MET. Don't feel guilty.

1 comment: