Recent Acquisitions: 2017

The Lunder Collection

Building on acquisitions from 2016 and the inauguration of the Lunder Institute for American Art, the Lunder Collection added a number of exemplary works this year, including Ai Weiwei’s Colored Vases, 2006–8. In this work, Ai paints over the surfaces of Neolithic pottery (5000–3000 B.C.E.) to transform the significance and meaning of the earthenware vessels. By doing so, he raises questions about the value of cultural artifacts in contemporary society and how histories are constructed. The artist Whitfield Lovell also incorporates and re-contextualizes objects in his practice. In Kin XLII (Cri du Coeur), 2010, and Kin L (Ego), 2011, Lovell juxtaposes finely rendered charcoal portraits of two African Americans—drawn from vernacular photographs of people unknown to Lovell—with objects from everyday life mounted below the portrait. Part of the Kin series, Lovell’s pairing reclaims a history and an individualized identity for the anonymous “sitters” that had been effaced by the legacies of slavery. Romare Bearden’s Cotton, a photostat collage from 1964 inspired by childhood memories of African Americans working in cotton fields, equally confronts the legacy of slavery and its impact on notions of home and labor for African Americans in the twentieth century. In dialogue with the environmental humanities initiative at Colby is Olafur Eliasson’s Jokla Series. Completed in 2004, it is composed of forty-eight black-and-white aerial photographs taken over several years that document the longest river in eastern Iceland. Influenced by the land art of the 1970s, the work engages with ideas of perception, mapping, and environmental change.

The Lunder Collection’s holdings of modern and historical paintings grew in 2017. The addition of Richard Pousette-Dart’s oil painting Shadow of the Unknown Bird, 1955–58, deepens the Collection’s engagement with postwar abstraction. Frederic Church’s Mount Newport on Mount Desert Island, c. 1851–53, a joint gift of Samuel Lehrman and Peter and Paula Lunder, strengthens the Museum’s collection of mid-century Hudson River School landscapes and representations of the state of Maine. Study for William Rush and His Model, 1908, is a preparatory oil sketch by Thomas Eakins for a painting of the same title in the Honolulu Museum of Art. Eakins had painted an earlier version of the subject in 1877—now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—but when he revisited Rush and his model thirty years later he repositioned the nude woman to face the viewer. The study is a prime example of Eakins’s enduring quest to depict the human body in a naturalistic manner. Complementing two sculptures already in the Collection by Frederic Remington is the oil grisaille Lawton’s Pursuit of Geronimo from 1896, a joint gift of Sam Rose and Julia Walters and Peter and Paula Lunder.

The Lunders’ acquisition of more than 350 prints by Arthur Wesley Dow is truly a transformative gift for the Museum. Covering the full spectrum of his printmaking practice, the Dow collection enables the Colby Museum to be a center for the study of his art. Reflecting the influence of the Japanese woodblock technique, Dow’s prints deepen the Lunder Collection’s focus on art made in a transnational and transcultural context. Additional works that entered the Collection this year that are in conversation with Dow’s work are an exquisite impression of Katsushika Hokusai’s woodblock print Noborito Bay, 1830–35, and eight prints by James McNeill Whistler. The etching Chateau de Bridoré, made during Whistler’s honeymoon in the Loire Valley of France in 1888, is one of two known impressions. Additionally, the Lunder Collection added print series by Jacques Callot, The Miseries of War, 1633, and by Francisco Goya, Los Proverbios, 1815–23. Visually and psychologically engrossing, Callot’s 18 prints provoke questions about the politics and morality of war; Goya’s prints—also 18 in number—reflect the dark romanticism and social satire that the Spanish artist is known for. Rembrandt’s The Star of the Kings, c. 1651, is a delicately etched nocturne that showcases the artist’s command of the medium. Both Goya and Whistler mined Rembrandt’s nocturnal scenes for strategies they could borrow in their own representations of darkness and the night.

Museum Purchases

The Colby Museum joined with several of its partners in the New Media Arts Consortium to purchase Silueta Sangrienta (1975), a newly preserved film by Ana Mendieta. Formed in 2016 to acquire contemporary new media works through joint ownership, the Consortium has now expanded its purview to include major figures from the generation of film and video artists that emerged in the 1970s. It was at the outset of this decade that Mendieta focused her artistic practice on feminist themes that address life, death, metamorphosis, and belonging. Silueta Sangrienta is one of a series of films and photographs in which nature serves as the site for the artist’s exploration of an archetypal female form echoed by her body and in resonance with the orchestrated presence of elemental substances, including blood.

Nature was similarly the inspiration for two twentieth-century paintings acquired by the Museum. David Driskell was awarded the Colby Museum’s Cummings Award for Artistic Excellence in the summer of 2017. The occasion of this honor for an artist with longstanding ties to Maine precipitated the acquisition of one of Driskell’s rare early oils. In Blue Pines (1959), a center vertical—the trunk of a majestic tree—bisects a massing of brushwork in blue-green hues against a gray-blue background. Horizontal projections from this axis suggest a naturally occurring grid akin to the structured facets and windows that define his later compositions. In 1968, Alma Thomas looked to a snow-covered holly tree outside her home in Washington, D.C., for the subject of Red Tree in High Winter, creating a work in which delicately layered and integrally connected brushstrokes coalesce into an embodiment of harmony during a time of social tumult.

Works on Paper

In 2017, the Colby Museum’s stellar holdings of modern and contemporary works on paper continued to grow in directions both new and complementary to the collection’s strengths. With the support of the Lindsay Leard Coolidge ’78 Print Acquisition Fund and the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund, the Museum acquired its first work by Leonardo Drew, who had been Colby’s 2016 Prentice Distinguished Lecturer. On behalf of the Museum, the Alex Katz Foundation acquired two recent gouaches by Marina Adams, an artist based in New York City and Parma, Italy, who is new to the collection. This gift speaks to the Foundation’s ongoing commitment to amassing work by artists innovating within the elastic languages of coloristic abstraction and figuration. Along the same lines, Lucio A. and Joan Noto bolstered the Museum’s collection of paintings and prints by Katz’s contemporary Philip Pearlstein with the year-end gift of an exquisite drawing. The Alex Katz Foundation also augmented existing holdings of master prints with the gift of To Mennesker (Man and Woman) by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. This delicate and sensual 1914 drypoint attests to Munch’s accomplishment with the technique, which he had adopted almost twenty years earlier. To Mennesker (Man and Woman) joins a lithograph by Munch already in the Lunder Collection and amplifies significant aesthetic genealogies—the Symbolist exerted a profound influence on, among others, the Maine artist Bernard Langlais, who studied his oeuvre in Norway.

Twentieth-century European art has been underrepresented in the Museum, but these Munch prints will now have robust company, thanks to the gift of The Norma Boom Marin Collection of German Expressionist Prints. Marin, the widow of John Marin Jr. and the daughter-in-law of the acclaimed American artist John Marin (1870–1953), has been a generous benefactor of the museum for decades. She collaborated with the foremost international print dealers to assemble a cross-section of work by German artists at the top of their form. This collection attests to the technical prowess of the Expressionists and features twenty-eight prints (many of them brilliant or rare impressions) spanning the years 1907–1924. Included within the gift are five exceptional prints by Max Beckmann; of these, two are self-portraits, and one is an unrecorded proof state. The spectacular 1915 drypoint Die Granate (The Grenade), one of only twenty editioned impressions, thrums with the cacophony of the combat that Beckmann had experienced firsthand as a wartime medic. Other prints, such as Emil Nolde’s color lithograph Tingel-Tangel III and Conrad Felixmüller’s drypoint Artistin (Circus Performers), offer tremendous insights into the spaces of modern sociability. These transformative acquisitions will enhance the Museum’s presentation of global histories of modernism, seeding new research by faculty and students alike.

Photography remains one of the Museum’s priorities for strategic growth. Uniquely accessible to audiences, this medium is among the most heavily utilized in courses across the curriculum. Thanks to the unstinting generosity of key donors, Colby possesses photographic depth in several places, but little in the way of breadth. To maximize impact at a critical juncture in the Museum’s evolution, the curatorial and education leadership identified a set of historic photographic prints that satisfy our current acquisitions objectives. As a 19th-century photogram of foliage, a print by Amelia Bergner introduces the intertwined histories—and pedagogies—of the natural sciences, the arts, and technology. A gelatin silver print by Manuel Álvarez Bravo depicting a dancer reenacting the Spanish conquest of Mexico counters the poetic portfolio of work by this artist already in the collection and interjects new tensions: it forges dialogues across media with, for example, works by the Taos Society of Artists. Surrealism is not particularly well represented, so a 1938 montage by the Hungarian-Mexican photographer Kati Horna will support the study of international avant-gardes. The gift of more than thirty photographs from Dr. William and Mrs. Nancy Tsiaras ’68 adds prints by William Christenberry, Lauren Greenfield, and Garry Winogrand, among others, and demonstrates a shared commitment to comprehensive collection-building.

PLEASE NOTE: Not all works in the Colby Museum collection are on view at any given time. If you have a question about works on view, please call 207-859-5600 prior to visiting.