- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 16, 2000


Exhibits at smaller museums that express the taste of their founders — Duncan Phillips' Phillips Collection and Marjorie Merriweather Post's Hillwood Museum and Gardens — dominate this fall's art scene.
The National Gallery of Art also is focusing on more personal collecting by mounting shows in jewellike "cabinet rooms." The "rooms" are re-creations of those once used by Italian princes and Dutch and Flemish bourgeoisie for their more modestly scaled objects. "Small Northern European Portraits From the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore" is on view in the Dutch galleries beginning Sept. 17 through Feb. 19, while Renaissance paintings and small bronzes embellish the newly opened Italian Cabinet Galleries.
This season is a distinct contrast to blockbusters of the past and demonstrates that museums present art in a variety of ways.
Hillwood, admired for its collections and gardens, reopens to the public Sept. 26 in Georgetown after a three-year, $9 million renovation. It underwent major structural repair and restoration of its interiors and selected objects.
Mrs. Post, heiress to the Postum Cereal Co. who died in 1973, assembled the most comprehensive collection of 18th- and 19th-century Russian imperial art outside Russia as well as one of the foremost assemblages of 18th-century French decorative arts. She displayed them in the 36-room Georgian-style mansion and 25 acres of landscaped gardens she purchased in 1957. Washington society at the time knew the collector and philanthropist for her lavish parties, where she showed off the art.
She began collecting French decorative arts in the early 1920s with the help of prominent art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen. She was in good company. Duveen also advised Andrew Mellon, founder of the National Gallery, on purchases of much of the art now in the gallery.
Mrs. Post formed the nucleus of her Russian collection during her 1937-to-1938 stay in the Soviet Union as the wife of Ambassador Joseph E. Davies. She built on this passion during the next 35 years by aggressively buying at auction and through European and American dealers.
She concentrated on collecting the best of Russia's arts, such as porcelain from the country's most significant factories; imperial glass; about 80 pieces from the famous court jeweler Carl Faberge, including two of the rare 50 imperial Easter eggs; Russian icons; and important paintings, such as the "Portrait of Catherine II" (circa 1788).
The story of the Phillips Collection and the way it presents its art is very different. Like Hillwood, the original nucleus of the Phillips collection was a home. Duncan and Marjorie Phillips opened part of their house and its collection to the public in 1921. As the collection grew, the couple found other living quarters while their museum became recognized as the first of modern art in the United States.
In its major fall show, "Degas to Matisse: Impressionist and Modern Masterworks From the Detroit Institute of Art," the Phillips Collection contrasts its founder's approach in choosing impressionist and modern works to that of his contemporary, Robert Tannahill of Detroit. The exhibit, which will run from Sept. 23 to Jan. 21, takes an original path through the by-now-familiar impressionist and modernist territories by pairing the tastes of two strong-minded and dedicated collectors.
Mr. Tannahill began collecting decorative art but switched to modern art in the 1930s. Like Mr. Phillips, he came from a moneyed background; his maternal family had founded the J.L. Hudson department store. Even the Great Depression did not affect his wealth.
From 1930 to 1939, he built a collection unrivaled by most others. He also became a strong supporter of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Mr. Tannahill left more than 400 objects to the institute when he died in 1967. Fifty-seven, including masterpieces by Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, are in the Phillips show, juxtaposed with some 15 works from the Phillips.
Mrs. Post, Mr. Phillips and Mr. Tannahill were not the first collectors to make art an integral part of their homes.
Prosperous Dutch and Flemish burghers of the 17th century were avid collectors and housed their smaller treasures in "collectors' cabinets" or "kunstkamers." In 1995, the National Gallery re-created these "cabinets" — a series of three small rooms — and is showing a selection of small-scaled Northern European portraits from the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore.
The new Italian Cabinet Galleries are meant to evoke interiors of Italian Renaissance palaces or villas. They display paintings and precious objects kept in the small private chambers or studies of princes, humanists and wealthy merchants.
This season has one blockbuster, "Art Nouveau, 1890-1914," and it comes from England. Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in association with the National Gallery, it is the largest and most comprehensive exhibit of the style ever presented. The show is scheduled Oct. 8 through Jan. 28.
Art nouveau (French for "new art") began as an exuberant decorative art movement in reaction to conservative academic 19th-century styles. The fin-de-siecle style was richly ornamental and asymmetrical and characterized by tense, flowing lines similar to twining plant tendrils. It was most successful in furniture, jewelry and book design and illustration.
Art by more than 150 artists and designers makes up the 350-work show of painting, sculpture, graphics, glass, ceramics, textiles, furniture, jewelry and architecture. Outstanding examples of architecture are a Glasgow, Scotland, luncheon room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh; a Paris Metropolitain (or Metro) entrance by Hector Guimard; and a double parlor from a Turin, Italy, villa by Agostino Lauro.
The Washington area long has offered stellar exhibits of Asian art, and this season is no exception. Of particular interest is "Asian Traditions in Clay: The Hauge Gifts" at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (Oct. 29 through April 22). Local collectors Osborne and Gratia Hauge and Victor and Takako Hauge gave the Sackler a substantial number of ceramics between 1996 and 1998.
These 84 vessels from three groups of Asian ceramics — ancient Iranian painted or burnished earthenware, glazed earthenwares from Islamic Iran and Iraq, and glazed stoneware from the Khmer Empire (centered in present-day Cambodia) — are exhibited for the first time.
Related to the Hauge exhibit is "Storage Jars of Asia," a show of big Chinese containers used for shipments to Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. It is scheduled from Oct. 29 through March 10 at the Freer Gallery of Art.
"Fountains of Light: Islamic Metalwork From the Nuhad Es-Said Collection," opening tomorrow, features 27 inlaid metal vessels — bowls, ewers, candlesticks and incense burners — from one of the finest private collections of Islamic metalwork.
Vidya Dehejia, new Sackler and Freer galleries chief curator and deputy director, curated and organized "India Through the Lens: Photography 1840-1911," which presents 135 photographs. Miss Dehejia calls the period "the golden age of early Indian photography." The show runs Dec. 3 through March 25.
The exhibit "Noble Dreams, Wicked Pleasures: Orientalism in America, 1870-1930" will appear at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore Oct. 1 through Dec. 10. Through canvases of painters such as John Singer Sargent and the movie "The Sheik," with Rudolph Valentino, the curators trace the influence of the Near East and North Africa on late 19th- and 20th-century American art and pop culture.
Shows of contemporary and modern art this fall offer a mixed bag. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden mounts a comprehensive survey of German artist Wolfgang Laib's work, Oct. 26 through Jan. 22. Mr. Laib created "milk stones" and "pollen pieces" in his signature works of the 1970s. His most recent large-scale installations and structures are in beeswax.
The Hirshhorn also is presenting an interpretive exhibition of Horace Pippin's "Holy Mountain III" in its "The Collection in Context" series through March 5. The show analyzes the symbolic imagery, social themes and cultural issues reflected in the 1945 painting by this self-taught black American artist.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art shows more than 150 monotypes, paintings and small sculptures by Jack Boul, one of the most important of Washington's printmakers, from Nov. 18 through Feb. 19. Mr. Boul, a master of familiar surroundings, prints small evocative monotypes of landscapes, figures and interiors.
Barbara Chase-Riboud, a black American expatriate artist, sculptor, author and poet, is noted for her metal and fiber sculpture. The showing at the Walters Art Gallery of "The Monumental Drawing" (Nov. 12 through Feb. 18) is the first collection of her graphic work to be displayed in the United States since 1973.
Other exhibits include the National Museum of Women in the Arts' "Julie Taymor: Playing With Fire" (Nov. 16 to Feb. 14), which showcases the career of this multimedia artist, most famous for her work on Disney's "The Lion King" on Broadway; an exhibit of Andy Warhol as "Social Observer" at the Corcoran (Nov. 18 through Feb. 19); and "Identity of the Sacred: Two Nigerian Shrine Figures" at the National Museum of African Art (Sept. 24 through April 2).
The Corcoran's always controversial biennial show ("The 46th Biennial Exhibition: Media/Metaphor") opens Dec. 8 and will run through March 5. The Corcoran has reflected the course of American painting for more than 90 years in its biennials. Now it begins a new tradition by combining painting, photography, video, film, installation and computer-related media.

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