|Jackson Pollock’s “Number 48,” (1949) will be a centerpiece of “Prendergast to Pollock,” The Fenimore’s first 20th century exhibit, in the collection of Utica’s Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute.|
Who doesn’t love it when a plan comes together?
Yes, the newly renamed Glimmerglass Festival is planning an opera this summer based on Edward Hopper, “Later The Same Evening.” (No valkyries here.)
Paul D’Ambrosio’s phone rang. It was Francesca Zambello, the opera’s new director: Can The Fenimore Art Museum do an exhibit to complement the opera?
D’Ambrosio’s first reaction: There’s not enough time. Then the NYSHA vice president & curator got on the phone.
The result: “A Window Into Edward Hopper,” including oils (two major ones, “Camel’s Hump” and “Freight Cars At Gloucester), watercolors and 30 drawings, many from private collections and seen for the first time.
Separately, D’Ambrosio found himself at Utica’s Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute – his wife, Anna, is assistant director there – viewing “Prendergast to Pollock: American Modernism,” which is touring the nation under the MetLife Foundation’s sponsorship.
The eureka moment: Stephen C. Clark, founder of The Fenimore Art Museum (and the National Baseball Hall of Fame), leaped to mind.
“He was traditional AND forward-looking,” D’Ambrosio said of the man who collected 19th-century primitives AND helped launch the Museum of Modern Art. “He was forward-thinking AND rooted.”
The outcome of all this will be evident this summer, when The Fenimore – repository of 19th-century American creativity – will go modern. In addition to Hopper and “Prendergast to Pollock,” the offerings will feature photographic portraits of the enigmatic artist Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera’s lover.
In D’Ambrosio’s view, what The Fenimore is doing is unusual and hard to replicate.
University art departments have 19th century experts and 20th century experts, each in their own silos; The Fenimore is tearing down those silos, demonstrating how the early art established the foundation for what followed.
“Prendergast to Pollock” – it includes works by O’Keefe, Rothko, Gorky, de Kooning and two of Jackson Pollock’s big canvases – is “a real show stopper” in its own right.
But visitors entering the exhibit will encounter panels discussing works from The Fenimore’s collection foreshadowing what was to follow, and advising where those earlier works may be viewed in the museum’s collection.
Works of everyday life from the 1830s and ‘40s, for instance, depicting people in everyday situations, can be seen as paving the way for what Henri, Prendergast, Luks and Sloan did on the gritty canvases of the Ashcan School.
The Hudson River School’s landscapes made the American countryside a suitable subject, a fight fully won by the time 20th century Cubists began taking the world apart and not exactly putting it back together again.
Over the past three years, D’Ambrosio said, the full range of modern American art has been reflected in
The Fenimore’s exhibits, beginning with “America’s Rome” in 2009, which examined its European roots.
The new Americanism fully flowered in the 2010 exhibit, “John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women.” The looser style of Sargent’s later portraits suggested what would come in the 20th century, when, as D’Ambrosio said, “You didn’t translate nature; you interpreted it.”
The curator ticked off the landmarks of 20th century American art: The 1908 MacBeth Gallery show that introduced the Ashcan School; the 1913 Armory Show, a flood of Impressionism; Alfred Stieglitz’s Gallery 291, which pioneered O’Keefe and John Marin.
By the 1940s, New York City was “a hotbed of avante garde,” with Greenwich Village’s Cedar Tavern the hangout for Pollock and the rest of the Abstract Expressionists.
“At the end,” D’Ambrosio said, “New York City was the center of the art world; at the beginning, it was Paris.”
“Portraits in Praise of Women” got a lot of attention last year, and it was reflected in The Fenimore’s gate: 20 percent more paying customers went through the turnstile than the year before.
This season promises to be even bigger, said D’Ambrosio, who was expecting a call from the Wall Street Journal’s art critic later the day of this interview.