Recent Acquisitions: 2016

The Colby College Museum of Art welcomed more than three hundred artworks into its collection in 2016. These objects have already expanded the stories presented in the Museum’s galleries and will continue to increase the Museum’s connections with the College’s academic curriculum and audiences both local and global. Noting the breadth of acquisitions, many of which by artists first entering the collection, Carolyn Muzzy Director and Chief Curator Sharon Corwin remarked, “These new acquisitions enhance the Colby Museum’s ongoing mission of developing a collection representative of the full diversity of American and contemporary art, and the addition of Picasso’s Vollard Suite to the Lunder Collection furthers our commitment to supporting in-depth study of the artistic process. We are excited to see the many ways in which these artworks will augment our exhibitions and teaching.”

The highlights below represent a fraction of our recent acquisitions.

Museum Purchases

This fall the Museum acquired the landscape painting Catskills Mountains Near Shandaken by the Hudson River School artist Asher B. Durand. It was painted in the early 1850s in New York’s Ulster County, on one of his many artistic sojourns in the Hudson River Valley. Durand was a leading landscape artist of the mid-nineteenth century and served as president of the National Academy of Design from 1845 to 1861.

In recent years, the Colby Museum’s programs and acquisitions have reflected an increased commitment to Latin American art. Among the additions to the collection have been works by Carmen Herrera, Enrique Chagoya, Luis Camnitzer, and Teresa Margolles, and this fall the Museum purchased a shaped canvas from 1975 by the Cuban-born, Puerto Rico-based artist Zilia Sánchez (b. 1926). Lunar negro con tatuaje (Black Moon with Tattoo) is a hybrid creation—part painting, part sculpture. Raised breastlike forms serve as the work’s primary three-dimensional elements. Painted lines resembling those of star maps create a loose network between these structures, suggesting an association between the artist’s personal narrative of migration and the contemporaneous history of space exploration so central to the Cold War.

Although the Museum’s Alex Katz collection is extensive, Bather and Double Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg are the first paintings acquired from the watershed year of 1959. As our 2015 exhibition Brand-New & Terrific: Alex Katz in the 1950s demonstrated, Katz’s work from that decade culminated in a series of innovations undertaken that year. He destabilized the relationship between figure and ground via both the cutout (a hybrid of painting and sculpture) and the reduplicative portrait, a genre of painting that portrayed the same figure multiple times within a composition. A depiction of the artist’s wife, Ada, Bather represents the culmination of Katz’s work in collage throughout the 1950s. Double Portrait of Robert Rauschenberg, a depiction of a fellow artist and friend, poses conceptual questions about seriality and variance similar to those being explored contemporaneously by Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and, of course, Andy Warhol. Thanks to the support of the Alex Katz Foundation, Peter and Paula Lunder, Barbara and Ted Alfond, and Michael Gordon, both of these major paintings have finally entered a public collection. Joining them is Frank O’Hara, perhaps the most renowned of the artist’s early cutouts, generously gifted by the Alex Katz Foundation.

Visual art was, for many decades, “a secret kind of thing” for the self-taught Rosalyn Drexler (b. New York, 1926), who instead gained public recognition for her work as a novelist, screenwriter, and playwright. To make her signature collage paintings she collected newspaper and magazine clippings, sometimes blowing them up, and soaked them in water before gluing them onto her canvases and painting them in. This pictorial subconscious amplifies the tone of Drexler’s “pop noir” iconography, consisting often of figures drawn from tabloid newspapers, pulp detective novels, or B-movie posters, as in The Defenders. Here she lifts the figures from gangster-movie stills, combining them with evocatively shattered and, in places, reddened text. Drexler’s sophisticated treatment of popular imagery exposes not only the gendered hollowness of stock characters but, more crucially, the patriarchal foundations of violence in these mass narratives.

A two-channel video installation and series of associated photographs, Rapture (1999) earned the Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) international acclaim. The second installment in what would become a trilogy, it furthered her exploration of the mechanisms of social control within contemporary Islamic societies, particularly with respect to gender. In this compelling photograph from Rapture, female protagonists launch a boat that only a handful of them will board. For Neshat, this voyage—ambiguously escape or exile—symbolizes the revolutionary potential of women to rise against oppression: “The film questions women’s nature as opposed to men’s, and shows how often women surprise us with their strength of purpose, particularly in moments of crisis.” A poetic visualization of cultural realities, this image assumes new resonance in the midst of the current global migration crisis.

The Lunder Collection

Peter and Paula Lunder gifted a deluxe set of Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite (1930–37), a series of one hundred etchings that is considered the artist’s most significant cycle of prints and a hallmark of twentieth-century modernist printmaking. Etched in a neoclassical style based on Picasso’s studies of classical sculpture, the Vollard Suite traces his development during a critical period in his career and shows him exploring themes of mythology, identity, creativity, and sexuality. The Museum’s suite is believed to be one of only a few deluxe sets signed in full by the artist.

Nineteen works were added to the Lunder Collection of James McNeill Whistler in 2016. Among the highlights of the new arrivals is the pastel Fondamenti dei Mori, which Whistler made while in Venice in 1879–80. With the acquisition of the etching Upright Venice from the same period, the museum now has complete First and Second Venice Sets by the artist. Additional works by Whistler that entered the collection this year include several rare impressions of prints, such as Carpet Menders, Paris, from 1894. There are also newly acquired works that cover a range of subject matter and of techniques that epitomize Whistler’s experimentations with printmaking: scenes of street life in London’s East End, etchings of French medieval and renaissance architecture from the Loire Valley, and exquisitely etched studies of the extravagant façade of the Grand Palace in Brussels, all made during a vibrant period of etching for Whistler in the late 1880s.

This past spring the Lunder Collection also acquired John Singer Sargent’s stunning double portrait, François Flameng and Paul Helleu (c. 1880). Sargent befriended the two sitters, who were both artists, in Paris; inscribed to “my friend Flameng,” the portrait commemorates the artistic camaraderie among the trio. Fresh from his apprenticeship at the atelier of Carolus-Duran, the painting highlights a youthful Sargent establishing his command of the loose and lush brushwork that would become his signature style for portraits.

Finally, the Lunder Collection grew its postwar holdings with the acquisition of Kenneth Noland’s Salute (1963). Best known for intensely colored works employing stripes, targets, or chevrons, Noland developed his mature style in the late ’50s and early ’60s alongside other artists whose practices have collectively been referred to as post-painterly abstraction. This term was coined by the critic Clement Greenberg, who celebrated these artists in a 1964 exhibition of the same name that he curated for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. However diverse their practices, these painters all rejected, according to Greenberg, the gestural and emotive qualities of Abstract Expressionism, opting instead to embrace a “physical openness of design” and “linear clarity.” A favorite work of Noland and an early example of his deployment of the chevron, Salute remained with the artist until his death in 2010.

Modern and Contemporary Gifts

Throughout his career, Alex Katz has revisited many subjects repeatedly, but has done so in different contexts and in a wide range of media. To translate motifs and shift their scale, he has incorporated a number of traditional techniques into his process. Italian Renaissance artists such as Raphael used full-size preparatory drawings called cartoons (from the Italian cartone, meaning a large and sturdy sheet of paper) to transfer their compositions onto other supports. Like them, Katz sketches loosely on thick paper and then pounces the contour lines of the drawing, meaning that he makes small holes and dusts them with pigment to map out a basic outline. Cartoon for Anne, a gift from Paul J. Schupf, is one such cartoon that relates to a series of cutouts and paintings executed between 1987 and 1990.

Dead Plover is the eleventh work by Marsden Hartley to enter the Colby Museum’s collection through the extraordinary generosity of the Alex Katz Foundation. Included in this impressive record of prior gifts are two early paintings of fruit arrangements, but until now, the Museum has lacked an example of Hartley’s late still lifes, which were almost exclusively devoted to dead shorebirds as their subject matter. The Maine-born artist’s interest in this elegiac theme emerged in the last chapter of his career, when he returned to his place of origin to create some of his greatest works.

The Museum accepted a gift of two photographs by Diane Arbus from John and Susan Pelosi. Transvestite at her birthday party, N.Y.C. (1969) captures Arbus’s career-defining engagement with individuals considered to be on the margins of society. Unlike the fleeting encounters with anonymous individuals documented by her peers associated with street photography, Arbus’s work captures the self-consciousness of her subjects and their active participation in the making of their images. In reflecting on this photograph of her friend Vicki, a recurring subject, Arbus would later recall how she was both friend and photographer at the party where the photograph was taken. The cultivation of a relationship between Arbus and her subject is also evident in Woman in a Rose Hat, N.Y.C. (1966), whose close framing requires the subject’s consent in presenting her vulnerability before the camera.

Through the generosity of Daniel Thomson and Doug Wetmore, the Museum acquired thirty-five photographs by the legendary sports photographer Walter Iooss (b. 1943). The two gifts deepen the Museum’s collection of twentieth-century photography. Over the course of his sixty-year career, Iooss has covered some of the most significant moments in sports history. His photographs have appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated more than three hundred times. Included are iconic images of Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath, portraits of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, and photographs from Iooss’s time as a photographer for Atlantic Records, where he documented concerts by Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and the Rolling Stones.

A gift from Rebecca and James Ffrench ’85 marks the first work by Jared French to enter the Museum’s collection. The graphite drawing Sailor in the Park (1932) is an early example of French’s career-long exploration of realism. With a close-knit cohort of like-minded artists, including his wife Margaret French and his lover Paul Cadmus, French transformed common sites of leisure—boardwalks, beaches, and parks—into archetypal realms of psychosexual drama.

In keeping with their longstanding support of teaching museums, Sally and Wynn Kramarsky gave a group of modern and contemporary drawings to the Colby Museum in 2009. Their second such gift, offered in the summer of 2016 and accepted this fall, consists of twenty-eight works, primarily in drawings, by twenty-one artists, twelve of which are new to the collection. Highlights from the group include the 1966 collage Fruitful Place by Leonore Tawney and The Declaration of Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms (2006), a minute rendering of a revolutionary text from the American War of Independence by the Lebanese-American artist Annabel Daou (b. 1967).