The New York Times
Inside ArtFluxus Art Bolsters MoMA’s CollectionBy CAROL VOGEL
Published: February 12, 2009
After he had collected things as curious as antique locks, the Detroit developer Gilbert Silverman started to embrace art of the avant-garde. “All I could afford was very late, contemporary art,” he recalled. “I liked Dada, but it was too expensive.”
On a trip to Japan in 1970 he discovered the work of the so-called Fluxus artists: an anti-art movement made up of a loose international collective of young writers, musicians and artists in the early 1960s that included figures like Nam June Paik, Christo, Claes Oldenburg, Yoko Ono and George Brecht. The work was fun and engaging, so much so that Fluxus art soon became a 30-year, all-consuming passion for Mr. Silverman and his wife, Lila.
“I’ve found material all over the world: Japan, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, the United States,” he said. Now Mr. Silverman, 84, and his wife have decided to give their entire Fluxus collection to the Museum of Modern Art, where he is an honorary trustee. The gift consists of about 3,000 works in many different mediums, like printed ephemera, multiples, drawings, sculptural objects, photographs and films. It also includes more than 4,000 files — artists’ correspondence, notebooks and scrapbooks as well as documents and photographs related to Fluxus performances and events — and a reference library of more than 1,500 books and catalogs.
“I’ve been attached to three museums: the Modern, the Detroit Institute of Art and the Israel Museum,” Mr. Silverman said. “But the Modern is the Mount Everest of the contemporary art museums, and I wanted it to be available to the public. It just makes sense.” Once the collection is inventoried, it will be available at MoMA to scholars from all over the world.
For the museum the gift shores up its collections in an important chapter in the history of modern art, one that has clear roots in New York, said Peter Reed, MoMA’s senior deputy director for curatorial affairs. “It is a whole sector of the 1960s and early ’70s that has not been a part of our narrative in the way American Pop Art and Minimalism has,” he added.
Imagine monumental, amorphous shapes of gossamer-thin fabric sacks that resemble massive teardrops or cow udders or even human intestines. Now picture them hanging from a ceiling in a bizarre cobweblike environment. That’s what will emerge when the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto takes over the cavernous drill shed at the Park Avenue Armory from May 15 through June 14.
The work of Mr. Neto, 44, who has created similar projects in Paris and Malmo, Sweden, will not only be tactile and visual but also aromatic. The membrane-like sacks are filled with a total of 1,800 pounds of pungent spices: turmeric and cumin, ginger, black pepper and clove.
His largest such installation to date, Mr. Neto’s commission is the start of what will be an annual program of site-specific contemporary art projects at the armory. “The space will give artists an unprecedented opportunity to create large-scale work,” said Rebecca Robertson, president of the Park Avenue Armory, who saw Mr. Neto’s work at the Pantheon in Paris in 2006, an installation she described as “a little bit heart stopping.”
The new project has been financed in part with a $200,000 Rockefeller innovation grant and includes educational programs.
Mr. Neto said that when he came to New York to see the armory, he was overwhelmed not only by its scale but also by the raw state of the drill shed. “It’s a very kind of romantic space that is one city block,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Rio de Janeiro, explaining that this work will be divided into sections and floor pieces so that people will be able to walk through it.
“I am trying to create a space where you have different experiences that you move through,” he said. The pendulous sacks, he added, will be created to give the viewer the feeling that “everything is falling down.”
This isn’t the first monumental project in the drill shed that has been installed under Ms. Robertson’s watch. In September 2007 the artist Aaron Young created “Greeting Card,” a theatrical piece consisting of 10 motorcycle stunt riders performing for seven minutes on 288 panels of painted plywood covering the floor, the patterns from their ride creating colorful swirls and zigzags on the panels.
“Greeting Card” was organized by the nonprofit Art Production Fund, which presents art installations. Mr. Neto’s project has been put together by Ms. Robertson and Tom Eccles, the armory’s consulting curator and executive director of the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture at Bard College.
“You wouldn’t encounter something like this anywhere else in New York,” Mr. Eccles said. “It’s what the city needs — a space where you can try out something daring.”
AUCTION OF A BRETON
Christie’s decision last month to merge two departments — 19th-century European paintings with old masters — has left an opening for Sotheby’s. “Now there are few other places to come and see just 19th-century paintings that are not the Impressionists,” said Polly Satori, director of the Sotheby’s 19th-century European art department. (Ms. Satori, it should be noted, ran Christie’s 19th-century European art department from 1987 until 2000.)
“But we’re not a museum, we’re a business,” she added. “And in 2008 Sotheby’s sold $41 million worth of 19th-century paintings. It’s a good business. Ten of those works brought more than $1 million.”
On April 24, when the auction house holds its 19th-century sale, Ms. Satori anticipates the audience will be eager to visit its York Avenue galleries. One of the attractions will be “Washerwomen of the Breton Coast,” an 1870 landscape by the French realist Jules Breton.
The painting, which depicts a seascape with laundresses working by the water’s edge, once belonged to Edwin Denison Morgan, governor of New York during the Civil War era and a United States senator who died in 1883. After the sale of his estate in 1886 the painting disappeared and was known to scholars only as a black-and-white image in books and monographs.
Much to Ms. Satori’s surprise, the painting recently turned up in a Paris apartment, where the owner had hung it in his dining room since the 1950s. (No records of where he bought it exist, Ms. Satori said, nor can he remember where it came from.) Now Sotheby’s is selling the painting, and experts there say it could fetch $400,000 to $500,000.
“There’s a real fan club for this artist,” Ms. Satori said, adding that the price of the canvas was estimated conservatively given the tough economic climate. Several factors make the work particularly desirable, among them its large size — more than 4 by 6 feet — and its inclusion of several figures, something that was unusual for Breton. It is also a painting that he exhibited in the Paris Salon of 1870. “That shows it was something he was proud of,” she added.
A version of this article appeared in print on February 13, 2009, on page C28 of the New York edition.
Many thanks to Billie Maciunas who sent me the link to this article!
Labels: Billie Maciunas, Fluxus, Moma