Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Same and Different

In the past couple months, I've visited three museums that reflect their ambitions, tastes, and desires of their early 20th century collectors: the Barnes Foundation outside Philadelphia, the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, NY and the new Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, NY. Taken together, they're a fascinating look at collectors and the museums they found--and how those museums move forward into the 21st century. The Barnes is the most familiar, I suppose, and certainly the subject of the most controversy because of its planned move to downtown Philadelphia. I'd read about it for years, of course, and the subject of the move was a part of my museum controversies class at Hartwick. I understand the need to move, but at the same time, the experience will be greatly changed. Like the other two places, it's a tremendous place to see crowds, small intimate spaces, and the chance to connect directly with work--and much of the work was art I hadn't seen before. I had read about Barnes' interest in juxtaposing American decorative arts--ironwork, Pennsylvania painted chests and the like--but it was really stunning to see. After a room or two, it really begins to make sense...Barnes was about color and shape, and the works play beautifully off each other. I'm glad I had a chance to see the collection in its original location...but if I worked there, I would probably be lobbying for the move.

A friend and I took a little field trip to the new Arkell Museum in Canajoharie. Most people have probably never been to Canajoharie, but if you drive the New York State Thruway, the Beech Nut sign marks the spot--and is the source of the Arkell money. It's a fine collection of American art--and then that large reproduction of Rembrandt's Night Watch. It really is a community place, connected directly to the community library. I was surprised, a bit, at how conservative the installation and interpretation were. I enjoy places like the Brooklyn Museum, who experiment with how to engage visitors with art and was disappointed that the presentation was so staid. That said, beautiful work and a chance to look carefully and closely. Most intriguing--the Rufus Grider paintings (but I wanted to know much more!) and the exhibit that explores the ways in which Arkell used his art collection in promotional materials for Beechnut--creating this idea of a bucolic, romantic American part.

Not so far from the Arkell, the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls. I was there for work, rather than for pleasure, so in some ways, a very different experience. The Hyde has just undergone a major restoration of the house itself, where a highly eclectic collection of art is installed. Here's the place where you can imagine living with the art--along with the candlewick bedspreads and ball fringe curtains of the 1950s!

All three places were wonderful places to see art...small and intimate, not crowded, and allowing you to look closely at works.

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