POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- Vassar was the first U.S. college established with a permanent art collection so that the use of physical art works would be central to the college’s instruction of art history and studio art. And just as founder Matthew Vassar purchased the initial paintings, drawings, and prints for the young women of the 1860s, the college has continually added to the collection through purchases and generous gifts and bequests to expand the impact of its art holdings for succeeding generations of students.
The past several years of collecting activity among the staff of the college’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center has resulted in a number of significant acquisitions of works on paper, one of the strongest areas in the permanent collection. Fifty-five standout examples -- including drawings, prints, artists’ books, photographs, and a film, ranging in time and place from the Italian Renaissance in the sixteenth century to Manhattan in the twenty-first -- comprise the new exhibition Recent Acquisitions: Works on Paper to be shown January 18-March 30, 2013. The exhibition‘s special event on Friday, January 25, will begin with the panel discussion “Collectors, the Market, and the Art Museum: An Aesthetic Ecosystem,” at 5:30pm in Taylor Hall room 203. Led by Art Center director James Mundy with panelists Eric Brown, Jonathan Kagan, and Deborah M. Rothschild, the discussion will focus on the interactions among curators, collectors, and gallery dealers in building art collections. A reception will immediately follow in the Art Center at 6:30pm.
Recent Acquisitions will be shown in the museum’s temporary exhibition galleries, with a small selection of works also displayed in the landing gallery on the second floor. The Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Exhibition Fund generously sponsors the exhibition.
“Directors, curators, and faculty have engaged Vassar students in a laboratory-like atmosphere through direct experience and inquiry of works in the permanent collection,” said exhibition co-curator Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Art Center. “Though emphases in the curriculum have changed throughout the years, works under consideration for acquisition have traditionally been weighed for their teaching value, for filling gaps in particular areas, and for conveying an aesthetic and conceptual boldness.”
For instance, the collection’s Italian Renaissance prints, anchored by Marcantonio Raimondi and his school of engravers, received a potent addition with the purchase of Giorgio Ghisi’s exotic and inscrutable Allegory of Life (The Dream of Raphael). Ghisi’s most famous work is a mysterious tour de force of engraving and, notably, the first of his prints to enter the Vassar collection. Likewise, the recent purchase of a few Dutch seventeenth-century works on paper bolsters Vassar’s rich holdings in that area, layered as it is with delicate landscape and narrative drawings and a rich selection of etchings.
The newly added sketches by Jan van Goyen and Govaert Flinck, as well as a small exquisite etching by Rembrandt van Rijn, The Goldsmith, benefit professor Susan Kuretsky’s course on seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting and her seminar on prints by Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer. These are among the 328 prints and drawings acquired by the Art Center over the past five years; together they add significantly to the collection’s 10,000 prints and drawings, boosting key holdings, enhancing instruction, and strengthening diverse collecting areas.
In terms of art instruction another valuable recent acquisition is the elegant neo-classical chalk drawing, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, attributed to François Pascal Simon Gérard; it provides a timely case for museum studies courses taught at the college, about ownership of a work of art and issues raised by Nazi looting, In 1939 the Nazis took this eighteenth-century sheet (drawn by a student of Jacques Louis David) from the collector Michael Berolzheimer of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in the mountains of southern Germany. Subsequently sold to the Albertina Museum in Vienna, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia appeared on the market in 2011 after being restituted to its original owner’s heirs.
Additional early works on paper in Recent Acquisitions include a beautiful, compelling chalk drawing of Saint Joseph by Alexandre-Jean-Baptiste Hesse, a French nineteenth-century academic painter. The work is a preparatory study for Hesse’s fresco of the Adoration of the Shepherds in the church of Saint Julien in Chevry-en-Sereine, France, southeast of Fontainebleau. Included as well in the exhibition is a finely drawn graphite study of a tree by the nineteenth-century American landscape and marine painter, Xanthus Smith. The piece fits well within the Hudson River School tradition of making careful sketches of nature in an almost documentary fashion.
Modern works selected for Recent Acquisitions include early twentieth century prints by Otto Dix and Henri Matisse, and abstract expressionist prints by Elaine de Kooning and Rolph Scarlett. The German modernist Dix, for example, whose prints, paintings, and drawings proved anathema to the conservative tastes of the Nazi regime, is now represented in the Art Center by his Nächtliche Erscheinung (Nocturnal Apparition) of 1923. The first Dix work to become a part of Vassar’s collection, it broadens the Art Center’s holdings in the influential 1920s German artists group Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), and joins prints by George Grosz, another key member of that group. This lithograph is a sterling example of Dix’s work from that decade. He pictures in deep black ink and scratchy white highlights a creature -- a mix of woman, rat, and skeleton-- smiling at the viewer and wearing the plumed hat and furry stole of the prostitutes who were a favorite subject for German modernists of the 1920s and a familiar presence in German life during that harsh economic time.
Works by Doris Lee and George Ault in the exhibition represent the early years of the art colony of Woodstock, New York. Lee’s lithograph, Winter in the Catskills, for example, gives a lighthearted, perhaps Dutch-inspired view of lively ice skaters with the village of Woodstock resting in the distance.
As the Art Center continued in recent years to add to its growing collection of post-WWII American prints and drawings, featured prints by Andy Warhol, Alice Neel, Jacob Lawrence, and Terry Winters, and drawings by Will Barnet and Don Nice, among others, strengthened the museum’s holdings of their works. At the same time, prints by Keith Haring, Jennifer Bartlett, Julian Opie, and Laylah Ali, among others, entered the permanent collection for the first time, and are seen in Recent Acquisitions. The exhibitionalso demonstrates how Vassar has strengthened its small collection of contemporary artists’ books in recent years, including important publications by Chuck Close, Bruce Naumann, Chris Burden, Allan Kaprow, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Sol LeWitt.
While the photography collection has of late grown a great deal in number -- with more than 320 works added in the past five years -- the diversity of photographs acquired by the Art Center has grown significantly as well, moving beyond the traditional gelatin silver print to include bolder, more experimental works. Thanks in part to the Advisory Council on Photography, an advocacy group founded in 1998 by Vassar College friends and alumnae/i with a passion for photography, the Art Center has had the opportunity to make key photography purchases. Members of the council have donated several significant works and each year they underwrite a number of purchases.
Recent Acquisitions shows, for instance, that in 2008 the Advisory Council on Photography made possible the acquisition of Richard Barnes’ stunning contemporary view of thousands of starlings migrating over the outskirts of Rome (taken during his Rome Prize year), as well as a portfolio of seven surprisingly intimate portraits of well-known artists by Dutch photographer Ari Marcopoulos. One of these portraits, depicting Jean-Michel Basquiat in his studio the year he died in 1988, is included in the exhibition. In another Marcopoulos work in the show, Andy Warhol is seen in full makeup and wig but wearing only a sheet wrapped loosely around his torso. In 2009 the Council selected a cityscape taken in Tokyo from a bird’s-eye view by Japanese artist Naoki Honjo; this work will be juxtaposed in the exhibition by an aerial photograph of Wall Street taken by New York-based contemporary artist Susan Wides. Co-curator Mary-Kay Lombino, the Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator and Assistant Director of Strategic Planning, notes that both Honjo and Wides used photo techniques that involve selective focus resulting in the peculiar effect of transforming real-life subjects into tiny replicas that look as unreal as scale-model toys.
Even more recently, the Art Center has acquired works by young African-American artists who incorporate or critique contemporary culture in their work. One example is by Hank Willis Thomas, born in 1976, whose large-scale color photograph So Glad We Made It entered the collection last year and is seen in the exhibition. In this work Thomas photographed a 1979 McDonald’s advertisement from Ebony magazine and eliminated all references to the original product, thus highlighting the racially loaded content of the ad and in turn exposing the commodification of African Americans by the corporate world.
Exhibition Special Events
Panel discussion and opening reception
Friday, January 25
Collectors, the Market, and the Art Museum: An Aesthetic Ecosystem
Focuses on the interactions among curators, collectors, and gallery dealers in building art collections. Led by James Mundy, director of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, with Eric Brown, Jonathan Kagan, and Deborah M. Rothschild
5:30pm, Taylor Hall, Room 203,
6:30pm, The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Atrium at
About the Moderator and Panelists
Eric Brown, Vassar class of 1990, is co-owner and director of New York's Tibor de Nagy Gallery. The gallery is known for coordinating outstanding exhibitions that shed light on pioneers of contemporary painting, sculpture, and photography. At Vassar, Eric was a studio art major.
Jonathan Kagan is managing principal of Corporate Partners LLC, a New York based investment firm. He was educated at Harvard College and received his Master's degree from Corpus Christi College of Oxford University. He is an avid collector of works related to Classical Antiquity including sculpture, coins, medals and books. He also collects paintings and works on paper related to the Classical tradition in Western Art.
James Mundy is the Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.
Deborah M. Rothschild, Vassar class of 1971, is the senior curator emerita of modern and contemporary art at Williams College Museum of Art. During a distinguished career of twenty-six years at the museum, she curated indelible exhibitions attracting national and scholarly attention, including Making It New: The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy (2007) for which she won a Curatorial Research Fellowship from the Getty Foundation.
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 18,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th- century painters. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and open to the public. All galleries are wheelchair accessible. The Art Center is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit http://fllac.vassar.edu
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.