Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Problem show, good results

"The Francois Zola Dam" by Paul Cezanne

It’s no secret that I’m not crazy about the “Turner to Cezanne” exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art. It’s a mish-mash from a fairly minor collection that has just a handful of really first-rate paintings by first-rate artists.
What I am crazy about is what the show appears to have done for the museum:
1. Moved membership to an all-time high of 4,000 plus.
2. Taken attendance to near-record levels (hovering around 30,000 for this show) during a tough economic time and with a $15 admission fee. The higher charge didn’t keep people away; it motivated them to become museum members and museum members get in free.
3. Has drawn visitors from throughout the state and region to the museum. I talked to someone who works at another museum in the state recently who had never been to the Columbia Museum before this show. They were as impressed with the whole museum as with the show.
4. Has gotten the museum moving on better integrating its performing arts program more in line with the museum’s larger mission although it still can’t seem to disperse information about programs in a timely and complete way.
5. Gives the museum an opportunity (and a lot of work) in re-installing the permanent collection on the second floor.
One of my regrets about all those new people coming for “Turner to Cezanne” is they got only a glimpse of the museum’s collection since most of it was taken down for the visiting show. But these people did get to see the museum’s new collection of Asian art, which will have a larger presence in the newly organized upstairs space.
“Turner to Cezanne” has the kinds of names that fulfill big goals at the museum, but for $500,000 the museum might have found a better show. (To be fair I will say the Paul Cezanne paintings are excellent. I like the big portrait by Pierre Auguste Renoir as much as any of his paintings I've seen. The J.MW. Turner paintings are the high point. Two of the three Claude Monet painting stand up to anything he did.)
If you haven’t been to the exhibition, you have only a few days left. It closes Sunday.
Then the bigger changes happen. Starting Monday the entire museum will be closed until June 26 when the exhibition “Cleve Gray: Man and Nature” opens. (His "Diana and Actaeon" at right). That show of nature-based abstract paintings will be the only thing up while the upstairs galleries are re-installed. This will be the first major revamp of the permanent collection galleries since the museum opened a decade ago, although the museum has done a great job of keeping this active by buying and borrowing art.
The reworked galleries reopen July 18 and that same day the first volume of a catalogue on the collection (in the works for 15 years) will be published.

1 comment:

  1. I adore the Cezannes and the Monets and the Turners - those ethereal Turners! Jeffrey, did you study the Van Gogh? It's rich.

    And though they may be mis-included (word?) in the show, I enjoyed the Daumiers greatly.

    But I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone can praise those two Renoirs.

    Overall though, I was thrilled little old Columbia snared the exhibit; it was pretty damned wonderful.


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