- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 7, 2000


Paul Greenhalgh, curator of "Art Nouveau: 1890-1914" and head of research at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, labored six years to organize the 350-object show.
He borrowed its paintings, sculptures, ceramics, glass, furniture, architecture, metalwork and textiles from more than 100 collections around the world.
"It was a fantastic experience but slightly nerve-racking," he says. The curator took a few minutes last week to talk about the show while National Gallery of Art exhibit and lighting designers, handlers and painters worked frenetically to get every piece in place.
Mr. Greenhalgh, 44, aims to demonstrate the importance of art nouveau as the first international modernist style with the exhibition and the weighty catalog he edited. "The designers played a crucial role in art nouveau and demonstrated the decorative arts could be beautiful as well as useful," he says.
"Art Nouveau" was the most heavily attended exhibit in the history of the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it opened April 6. The show drew 250,000 people during its 16-week run, and the museum had to keep the exhibit open at night.
The exhibition represents a complex undertaking about a complicated, multifaceted and often misunderstood style. Thirty scholars from 13 cities worked on the project.
"We set out to get the best objects in the best materials. We took our time and got what we wanted," Mr. Greenhalgh says.
"At first we'd get letters saying, 'You must be mad to want our piece,'" he says. He then enlisted the help of museum directors Alan Borg of the Victoria and Albert and Earl A. "Rusty" Powell III of the National Gallery.
More and more loans began to come in with their assistance. "Then everyone wanted to get on the bandwagon," Mr. Greenhalgh says.
The curator recalls that obtaining a cast-iron entrance to one of the subways in Paris was a problem. He felt that showing one of these "Metropolitain" entrances was important for the exhibit.
"I even fantasized about dismantling one of the existing ones and shipping it to London," he says. "But then I got lucky. A private collector called me up and offered me one. It's here and is one of the high points of the show."
Mr. Greenhalgh says he feels luck also was with him in obtaining art-nouveau objects from Italy. "Mitchell Wolfson Jr. is the greatest collector of Italian art nouveau, and his collection is part of the Wolfsonian-Florida International University in Miami Beach," he says.
The curator considers Agostino Lauro's "Double Parlor From a Villa in Sordevolo" from the Wolfson collection a major addition to the show.
Mr. Greenhalgh, a historian of the early modern period of 1850 to 1940, has been head of research at the Victoria and Albert since 1994. He previously served there as deputy keeper of ceramics and glass.
His books include "Ephemeral Vistas: Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World's Fairs, 1851-1939," published in 1988; "Modernism in Design," (1990); "Quotations and Sources on Design and the Decorative Arts 1800-1990" (1994); and "The Essential Art Nouveau" (2000).
He taught art history at Camberwell College of Art, the oldest art school in London, from 1992 to 1994. Earlier he was a tutor at the Royal College of Art.
"I guess I've bounced back and forth between art schools and museums," says the boyish-looking curator with tousled brown hair.
Mr. Greenhalgh first trained as a painter at the University of Reading and earned a master's degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art of the University of London.
"I wanted to teach art history in an art school because art is continually evolving and the process of modernity is ongoing. I like dealing with the creative process," he says.
It appears that teaching has won out over museum work. In January he is to become president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, one of Canada's principal colleges of art.
"Its great attraction for me is that it's a great college of arts and crafts and design as well as the fine arts," he says.


LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide