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Museums Report Rise in 2009 Acquisitions

While the economic downturn has curtailed the ability of many museums to make additions to their collections, the recession has also provided some institutions with rare buying opportunities, according to a recent survey of major institutions conducted by ARTnewsletter.

NEW YORK—While the economic downturn has curtailed the ability of many museums to make additions to their collections, the recession has also provided some institutions with rare buying opportunities, according to a recent survey of major institutions conducted by ARTnewsletter.

“Although the economic turmoil has forced us to be extremely careful with our expenditures this year, the truth is that there are also extraordinary opportunities in the marketplace at the moment,” Thomas P. Campbell, director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, told ARTnewsletter. “And because we have funds that are specific to acquisitions and cannot be used for any other purposes, we have been able to take advantage of that situation, to an extent. Whatever the external circumstances, the acquisition of great works of art remains central to our mission.”

The Met was also promised several major gifts last year, including 12 photographs by Helen Levitt (who died last year, at the age of 95) and an endowment fund in the artist’s name that will be used to purchase works by Levitt and other mid-20th-century American photographers. The latter gift came from the photographer’s sister-in-law, Kathy Levitt. Another promised gift made to the museum during the past year is The Baptism of Christ, an oil on canvas by Jacopo Bassano (ca. 1510–92).

Among the notable works of art purchased by the Met in the last year is a bronze oil lamp with friezes of playing children, 1515–25, by Italian artist Andrea Briosco (1470–1532), known as Il Riccio, and Pope Benedict XIV, 1746, an oil on canvas by French artist Pierre Hubert Subleyras (1699–1749), which was purchased at Sotheby’s sale of Old Masters in New York last January for $986,500 against an estimate of $100,000/150,000.

Last September the Met announced that during a cleaning and technical examination of a painting that has been in the museum for over six decades, and which was attributed to the workshop of Diego Velázquez, the artist’s signature was discovered. The painting, which had entered the Met’s collection in 1949 as a work of Velázquez, was reattributed to the workshop of the artist thirty years later. After the removal of retouching and discolored varnish from a previous restoration revealed the artist’s signature, Portrait of a Man, 1630, has now been fully reattributed to Velázquez.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, added to its collection of photography with the acquisition of 39 images by Richard Avedon (part museum purchase, part gift of the Avedon Foun­dation) and 60 19th-century French photographs (including prints by Édouard-Denis Baldus, Gustave Le Gray and Nadar) from the collection of Suzanne Winsberg. The Modern also purchased Bruce Nauman’s installation Days, 2009, which consists of audio equipment and was created for last year’s Venice Biennale.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, purchased a video installation by Palestinian artist Sharif Waked, titled To Be Continued. Most of the 70 objects that the Guggenheim acquired in the last year were purchases, including Joan Jonas’s video Mirror Piece I, 1991, and other works by Patty Chang, William Cordova, Wayne Gon­zales, Matt Keegan, Paul Kos, An-my Lê, Nate Lowman, Lisa Oppenheim, Matt Saunders and Mickalene Thomas. Matthew Ritchie donated his sculpture The Fine Constant, 2003, which joins four other works by the artist to complete the Modern’s installation of Ritchie’s The Hierarchy Problem.

Acquisitions Increase Despite Economy

A number of institutions reported higher numbers of acquisitions last year than in 2008, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which acquired about 550 objects, almost 50 more than in 2008. Among the objects to enter ­SFMOMA’s collection last year were three works by Mel Bochner—Actual Size (Face)/Actual Size (Hand), 1968, a series of black-and-white photographs; Expanse, 1968–2009, a blue powder pigment wall drawing; and No Thought Exists, 1970–2009, a chalk wall drawing—which were acquired by exchange and through a bequest of J.D. Zellerbach.

The museum also purchased Pipilotti Rist’s seven-minute video with sound I’m Not the Girl Who Misses Much, 1986; Gertrude Kasebier’s platinum print Happy Days, 1903, and Linz Diary, 2003, a suite of 26 chromogenic prints by Emily Jacir.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art sold 17 European paintings from its collection— including works by Pieter de Hooch, Gerard Ter Borch, Gaspar de Crayer, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Peter Paul Rubens—at Sotheby’s last spring for a total of $5.8million. With a portion of the proceeds, the museum purchased Chilean artist Roberto Matta’s large painting Burn, Baby, Burn (L’escalade), 1965–66, in addition to a group of textiles from the Kuba culture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. LACMA also purchased The Depravities of War, 2007, a suite of 15 woodblock prints by Sandow Birk, from Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco, for an undisclosed amount.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, which has long collected 19th- and early ­20th-century American and European photography, increased its holdings in contemporary Asian art with the purchase of nine photographs by Chinese artists Wang Qingsong and Hai Bo late last March from AW Asia, New York (ANL, 4/14/09). AW Asia founder Larry Warsh told ARTnewsletter at the time that the Getty paid between $100,000 and $200,000 for the nine works.

The Getty also purchased a nine-foot tall bronze vase by French sculptor Jean-Désiré Ringel d’Illzach. Among other works to enter the Getty’s collection as purchases last year are two drawings by Gustav Klimt—the black chalk Portrait of a Young Woman Reclining, 1897–98, and the black chalk and red pencil Two Studies of a Seated Nude with Long Hair, 1901–2—and a 1744–45 ­pastel-on-paper portrait of James Gray by Rosalba Carriera.

The Getty acquired a total of 1,443 objects last year (compared with 894 in 2008), comprising 54 drawings, 4 manuscripts, 2 paintings, a sculpture and 1,382 photographs. About 75 percent of the photographs came to the museum as donations. In addition, the Getty Research Institute acquired the 1985–2000 archives of the Guerrilla Girls, including papers, masks and plastic bananas.

Opportunities in an Uneven Market

“Donors haven’t held back,” Getty Museum director Michael Brand told ARTnewsletter. (On Jan. 7, after serving for four years as director, Brand announced he would step down from his position at the museum at the end of this month.) He was one of many museum officials who noted that one of the biggest effects of the recession on artwork—depressed prices and lower appraisal values—did not seem to deter collectors from making donations during the past year. On the other hand, lower prices also enabled the museum to purchase works it might not have been able to afford before the recession.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, also acquired more works last year than it did in 2008—2,290 objects versus 1,303. Among the highlights of the museum’s recent acquisitions is a Roman-era marble sculpture, Dionysus Flanked by Pan, and Jasper Johns’s painting Two Flags, 1977, both of which were purchased with endowment funds. The MFA also acquired Walking Soldier, 1917, a painted wood sculpture by Alexander Archipenko, which was a gift of the Archipenko Foundation. The museum also purchased Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation III), 1970, a monumental painting from Frank Stella’s “Protractor Series.”

Peter Marzio, director of the museum, told ARTnewsletter that over the past few years the MFA has inaugurated a series of auxiliary committees composed of members of the various ethnic groups in Houston, including the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Latin American communities. These committees are soliciting works from their respective segments of the population to be donated to the museum. “These groups are becoming a larger part of the city here and want to stake a claim in the museum,” Marzio said. “It’s not just Impressionists and Old Masters, which were the tastes of the people who originally founded the museum.”

The Dallas Museum of Art added to its holdings of contemporary art with the purchase of works by David Altmejd, Marlene Dumas, Jim Hodges and Yayoi Kusama using money from the museum’s Benefit Auction Fund. The Altmejd piece, The Eye, 2008, is an 11-by-18-foot sculpture composed of mirrored glass and wood supports. The Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Tex., bought Charles Sheeler’s painting Conversation–Sky and Earth, 1940, as well as a complete set of Edward Curtis’s 20-volume The North American Indian, 1907–30.

Kimbell Buys Major Michelangelo

One of the biggest coups of the year was the purchase by the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Tex., of Michelangelo’s earliest known painting, The Torment of Saint Anthony, ca. 1487–88. The tempera and oil on panel, measuring 18 by 13 inches, has been the subject of scholarly research for the better part of 50 years and only recently was conclusively attributed to Michel­angelo. The museum purchased the work for an undisclosed price from Adam Williams Fine Art, New York. The gallery itself had acquired the work at a Sotheby’s sale of Old Masters in London in July 2008—where it had been attributed in the catalogue to the workshop of Domenico Ghirlan­daio—for about $2million.

The Kimbell also bought The Grand Canal, Venice, Looking Toward the Rialto, 1826, an oil sketch by British artist Richard Parkes Bon­ington, for an undisclosed amount from a private collector represented by New York dealer Richard Feigen.

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Ark., which is still more than a year away from opening, has been continuously acquiring paintings for its collection. This year it acquired works including Richard Caton Woodville’s War News from Mexico, 1848; Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait’s The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix, 1856; and Thomas Moran’s Autumn Landscape, 1862. The museum also purchased Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting Rosie the Riveter, 1943.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Rich­mond, had a busy collecting year, acquiring 333 new pieces, the majority from the gift-purchase of approximately 200 works from the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection of German Expression­ist art. The Fischer acquisition includes works by Lyonel Feininger, Conrad Felixmüller, Vasily Kandinsky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, August Macke, Otto Müller, Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein. The museum also purchased Fred Tomaselli’s 6-by-6-foot mixed-media painting Woodpecker, 2008.

The High Museum of Art, Atlanta, has acquired more than 300 works of art since the beginning of the year, including the gift of two paintings by Auguste Renoir—Woman Arranging Her Hat and Still-Life with Apples, both ca. 1890—from longtime High patrons Michelene and Bob Gerson. The museum also purchased 53 images by Danish-born American photographer Peter Sekaer (1901–50) with funds provided by two local donors. All About Eve, ca. 1989, an assemblage painting by folk artist William Hawkins, was acquired as a part purchase, part exchange from Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco, owners of Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York (ANL, 11/17/09).

The Indianapolis Museum of Art made 783 acquisitions in 2009, including the purchase of 11 zincograph prints (lithographs on zinc plates) by Paul Gauguin known as the “Volpini Suite” from collector Samuel Josefowitz for an undisclosed amount.

In at least one major exception to the rule, acquisitions were down considerably at the Detroit Institute of Arts last year, to just 112 objects from 719 in 2008. Among the highlights of its 2009 acquisitions are the purchases of Beach at Long Branch, 1872, an oil painting by William Trost Richards; Mrs. Bradford Ripley Alden and Her Children, 1852, a painting by Robert Walter Weir; and Bar–Detroit, 1955, a Robert Frank photograph.

The Art Institute of Chicago acquired 884 objects last year, just surpassing the 880 pieces it acquired in 2008. The Art Institute received Tableau Vert, 1952 an oil painting on wood by Ellsworth Kelly, as a gift of the artist, and bought François Boucher’s chalk on paper Academic Study of a Reclining Male Nude, ca. 1750, as well as Paul Chan’s 14-minute digital projection 6th Light, 2007, one of seven works in the artist’s “7 Lights” series.

The Cleveland Museum of Art purchased Omer Fast’s video projection The Casting, 2007, which had been exhibited both at the 2008 Whitney Biennial and at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Among the other objects that the museum purchased were a 15th-century marble relief sculpture of Julius Caesar by Florentine artist Mino da Fiesole (1429–84) and a three-part set of late-13th- or early-14th-century Chinese hanging ink scroll paintings of the Buddha attended by a pair of disciples. At Sotheby’s in November, the Cleveland Museum bought Alice Neel’s oil on canvas Jackie Curtis and Rita Red, 1970, for $1.6million, triple the $400,000/500,000 estimate (ANL, 12/1/09).

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., purchased Dutch painter Hendrick Ter Brugghen’s Bagpipe Player in Profile, 1624, with financial support from the Greg and Candy Fazakerley Fund. The National Gallery also bought Norman Lewis’s Untitled (Alabama), 1967, and Marine Hugonnier’s suite of seven collages Art for Modern Architecture (Homage to Ellsworth Kelly), 2005, as well as Bochner’s gelatin silver print Surface Dis/Tension, 1968, all using contributions from the museum’s Collectors Committee. Among other items donated to the National Gallery were Thomas Demand’s five-picture suite of photographs Presidency I–V, 2008, a gift made by Agnes Gund and Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum purchased an untitled 1950 ink and graphite drawing on paperboard of huddling children by Charles White, a part gift of Julie Seitzman and part purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment. The museum also received the gift of the complete archives of media artist Nam June Paik, which includes the artist’s correspondence, sculptural robots and video technology.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., acquired 27 works last year, all as purchases. They include Nick Cave’s mixed-media sculpture Soundsuit, 2009; Marc Quinn’s steel, glass and silicone sculpture Reincarnate, 1999; and an untitled 1990 sculptural maquette by Fred Sandback. The Hirshhorn’s acquisitions were also down, from 35 in 2008 and 102 in 2007.

In Connecticut, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, purchased Slightly Open Clam Shell, 1926, a pastel by Georgia O’Keeffe, while the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, bought two preparatory drawings by Edward Hopper for the paintings Rooms by the Sea, 1951, and Western Motel, 1957.

The recession did not slow the collecting of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, which acquired 4,185 objects last year, more than double the 1,916 of 2008. The museum bought John Leslie Breck’s oil In the Valley of the Seine, ca. 1889, with funds donated by exchange from the John Pickering Lyman Collection. —Daniel Grant

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