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One Masterpiece Can Go A Long Way

That’s the headline on an article I’ve written on single-picture exhibitions, published in the September issue of The Art Newspaper.  It’s not online, at least at the moment.


But I have posted it — in a longer version — on my website. That’s one of the joys of having no space limitations on the web. It’s still not long — just about 800 words.

Thumbnail image for Photo_by_Kertis_Creative.[1].jpgThe story adds a few examples to those I’ve already chronicled on Real Clear Arts (e.g., Titian’s La Bella at the Kimbell, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Portland Art Museum and Moran’s Shoshone Falls on the Snake River in Portland.) The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art and the Frick are among others doing it, too.

At the Speed Museum of Art, director Charles Venable told me that he’s negotiating the loan of a sculpture, thematically linked to the Kentucky Derby, for a show next spring. He can’t say what — any guesses?

Meantime, isn’t the picture here, of visitors viewing Caravaggio’s The Fortune Teller at the Speed, fabulous?

Here’s how the Cedar Rapids exhibition came about, according to Sean Ulmer, a curator at the museum:

Three years ago, the Brooklyn Museum of Art approached the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art asking to borrow its seminal work, Grant Wood’s Woman with Plants (1929), for an upcoming traveling exhibition they were planning focusing on the art of the 1920s.  “Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties” opens at the BMA this October and then travels to the Dallas Museum of Art and then the Cleveland Museum of Art. 


Knowing that Woman with Plants is a pivotal work of art in our collection, the BMA generously offered us a choice from their collection in exchange.  In consultation with the Director, we decided that we wanted a truly significant work, one that had much to tell our visitors.  Part of this decision was based on our previous experience of displaying our 8 Rembrandt etchings during the 400th anniversary year of the artist’s birth, along side enlargements and accompanied by magnifying glasses.  Visitors welcomed the opportunity to slow down and look more carefully at these works, seeing Rembrandt’s craftsmanship in a way they never had before.  In choosing a work from the BMA’s vast collection, we wanted to create another opportunity for the museum visitor to focus on a singular work and to consider all it has to say. 


Fortunately, Terry Carbone, the curator at the BMA was able to help us narrow our field by listing several works she found particularly rich, not only in form but also in content.  We arrived at Charles Willson Peale’s 1776 portrait of George Washington, commissioned by John Hancock.  Created less than a year after being named Commander in Chief and shortly after his early success in the Siege of Boston, Washington sat for this portrait in late May 1776.  Hancock, President of the Second Continental Congress, was a successful merchant and major landowner in Boston and commissioned this work as a way of acknowledging Washington and how he saved Boston, and thus Hancock’s fortunes.  This important painting will be displayed in a gallery by itself and accompanied by panels that discuss several different aspects of the painting: George Washington, John Hancock, Charles Willson Peale, the Battle of Boston and the Revolutionary War.  There will even be a panel that discusses Grant Wood’s fascination with George Washington and the Revolutionary War.   In this way, we will offer the visitor a chance to look carefully at an American masterpiece and to consider all the stories it has to reveal.


Photo Credit: By Kertis Creative, Courtesy of the Speed Art Museum



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