Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh





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New at Carnegie Museum of Art

Fast chairs, tiny portraits, 80,000 Pittsburgh photos


By Ellen S. Wilson

It may seem obvious to say that the essence of an art museum is its collections, but in fact, acquiring those works of art, as well as the labor and money required, is not the most visible part of the museum.  The blockbuster shows, the children’s activities, the lectures or films, may compose a visitor’s main experience of the museum.  But there would be no "there" there--to invoke Gertrude Stein--without the collections.

            “One of the triumphs of the Second Century Fund,” says Richard Armstrong, Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art, “was the creation of endowments specifically to buy art.  Previously, the museum was handicapped as a collector, with few funds designated for acquisitions.  Historically, the museum presented wonderful objects, but seldom had the ability to purchase them.  Now our greater-than-$25 million endowment puts us in the ranks of the top museums in the country.”

            Most of the collecting the museum does is guided by the curators, with the International being a prime shopping opportunity.  “All the Internationals since 1985 have been successful in terms of acquisitions,” says Armstrong.  But the collections are also built through the generosity of patrons, who offer exceptional works of art – Armstrong cites the grand art deco relief Chariot of Aurora , a gift of Frederick Koch. 

            Surveying purchases and gifts of the last two years reveals a museum that is, at its core, healthy and ambitious, fulfilling its mission to seek and purchase works “for the enjoyment and enlightenment of all.”


Alex Katz, American, b. 1927 Lake Time, 1960, oil on canvas Henry L. Hillman Fund

The paintings of Alex Katz bring together two seemingly unreconcilable styles – abstraction and expressionism.  Katz's work was a highlight of the 1999 Carnegie International.   This painting shows Katz’ s wife Ada holding their baby Vincent and sitting with friends on the shore of a lake.  Both a highly personal memory and an expression of universal tranquility, the painting exemplifies, says Armstrong, “the simplified iconic forms that would come to dominate pop art.”

Duane Michals Archive

            Over the next 11 years, the museum will acquire the complete archive of Duane Michals, the acclaimed photographer born in McKeesport now living in New York.  The first installment of the archive, which includes silver prints, working prints, and other materials, has already been received.  Micale's work is an especially welcome addition to the museum's growing collection of photography.  Acquired through the Henry L. Hillman Fund.

Elizabeth Peyton, American, b. 1965 Ben Drawing, 2001, oil on board A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund

Elizabeth Peyton is among the most esteemed figurative painters to have emerged in the nineties.  Peyton’s tiny portraits “quiver,” says Laura Hoptman, curator of contemporary art, “with emotional fervor.”  Evoking both 19th-century French romantic painting and the work of such Pre-Raphaelites as Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Edward Burne Jones, the romance in Peyton’s work “lies not only in the languorous young toffs she loves to paint, but in the act of painting itself,”  Hoptman says.  “For her, it is the magic stuff that elevates and ennobles.”

Fine Arts

John Constable, British, 1776-1837 The Washing Line, ca. 1821, oil on canvas, Heinz Family Fund

            John Constable is an essential artist for any museum collection representing the 19th century, says curator of fine arts Louise Lippincott, because “his influence extended to artists in Europe and the United States well into the 20th century.”

            Constable was among the first painters in the modern era to focus on realistically treated local subjects, and this small painting represents the view from the window of his house in Hampstead. It is among the museum’s most important British paintings of the early 19th century and was included in last year’s Light! exhibition.  The painting is “executed with the freedom, precision, and spontaneity that make his sky studies such technical tours de force,” says Lippincott.

John Leslie Breck American, 1860–1899 Giverny Winter, 1889, oil on canvas Given anonymously  in honor of the late Adolph W. Schmidt

            John Leslie Breck was an advanced American painter who went to Claude Monet’s home in Giverny to study impressionism at its source.  There he painted Giverny Winter and gave it (possibly in return for lodging) to hotelkeeper Max Baudy, whose inn housed an American art colony in the 1880s and 90s.  Its style, says Lippincott, is a fluent interpretation of late impressionism, and exemplifies the close connection between American avant-garde art and French modernism at the end of the 19th century.

Aime Jules Dalou French, 1838 – 1902 Portrait of Dorothy Heseltine, 1874, terra cotta Given anonymously in honor of the late Adolph W. Schmidt

Jules Dalou was the most illustrious early practitioner of impressionism in sculpture, and this piece complements the museums two 18th -century terra cottas by French master Clodion. Portrait of Dorothy Heseltine is typical of the revival of this expressive medium in the 19th century, and enhances the museum’s collection of impressionism over all.  Dorothy Heseltine, portrayed here at age 10, was the daughter of a notable connoisseur and collector J. P. Heseltine, and this portrait of his daughter was one of Dalou’s first important commissions when he came to London.  The bust is a rare example of directly modeled terra cotta, and like the Breck painting, was given by an anonymous donor to honor Adolph Schmidt.

Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, French, 1824-1887Innocence Tormented by Love, 1871, terra cotta Heinz Family Fund

Epitomizing, says Lippincott, “the playful eroticism of late 19th-century French art and culture,” this piece is believed to have been modeled in part by Belleuse’s star pupil and studio assistant Auguste Rodin.  Belleuse was one of France’s leading decorative sculptors in the later 19th century, and also trained Jules Dalou.  This lively statue, depicting three putti revealing the charms of an attractive young woman, is rare both for its size and its excellent condition.  Belleuse finished his casts by hand, with careful attention to detail and surface, and this work complements the museum’s collection of  impressionist paintings.

Charles “Teenie” Harris Archive Heinz Family Fund

The museum has recently acquired the complete archive – nearly 80,000 negatives – of Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998), an incomparable record of historical events and daily life in Pittsburgh’s African-American community between 1936 and 1975. 

            “Harris had a great eye for composition, and was extremely good at showing the character of an event, or place, or person,” says Lippincott.  While immediate plans for the archive stress conservation and maintenance, the public will eventually have electronic access to the archive, and a major retrospective of Harris’s work is being planned.

Decorative Arts

Ross Lovegrove, British, b. 1958 Bernhardt Design, American manufacturer o Chair, 2001, magnesium and polycarbonate Gift of Bernhardt Design

            Looking like it is about to take off, the aptly named Go Chair, designed by Ross Lovegrove, was given to the museum by the manufacturer, along with the aluminum prototype (now currently touring with the exhibition Aluminum by Design.)  Lovegrove is a Welsh industrial designer known for innovative shapes and materials who set out to, as he says, “break the mold of how you deal with a four-legged chair,” and claims to have found inspiration in dinosaur bones as well as African art.  Originally intended to be made of cast aluminum, the chairs, when stacked, proved too heavy even in that light-weight material.  Lovegrove chose to make the chair of magnesium instead.

Gerrit Rietveld, Dutch, 1888-1964 Crate Chair, 1934, pine James L. Winokur Fund

            “The museum actively collects objects designed by architects,” says curator of decorative arts Sarah Nichols, “ and Gerrit Rietveld was an important designer who did interesting things throughout his career.  We have other chairs by him spanning the whole of his career, but an example of crate furniture seemed particularly important."

            Rietveld used the natural structure of materials as a design element.  Sold as “weekend furniture” in the 1930s and designed to be assembled by the customer and left unpainted, the chairs, tables, and desks were inspired by the packing crate itself.  Not suited for everyone, however, it was more about architecture than comfort.  “That’s one of the rubs of modernism,” comments Armstrong, “No pun intended.”

Ken Price, American, b. 1935 Mr. Icky, 2000, ceramic and acrylic paint Helen Johnston Acquisition Fund

Ken Price has been a significant artist in the field of ceramics, and beyond, for the past four decades.  “He’s very interested in surface and form and color, and the relationship between them,” explains Nichols.  “This piece is a new form for him, a very organic form.” 

Heinz Architectural Center Claude Parent, French, b. 1923 Deux îles en terre ferme: Turbosite  (1966, 1999) graphite on paper  Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust

Acquired during preparation for the recent exhibition Folds, Blobs + Boxes: Architecture in the Digital Era, this 1966 drawing by Claude Parent predates the digital era, but anticipates it in the fluidity of the structure's form and its abandonment of the traditional architectural grid of verticals and horizontals. The resulting dynamism and indeterminacy of form mirrors the concerns of French philosophers and literary intellectuals in the 1960s--ideas soon appropriated by artists, architects and, eventually, digital designers. "Turbosite" is an invented name for an invented place.

Film and Video

Nam June Paik, American, b. 1932 TV Rodin, 1976-8 Plaster, video camera, tripod, monitor, pedestal A.W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund

Long considered the most important video artist since the advent of the form in the late 1960s, Nam June Paik’s TV Rodin is from a small family of related works that involve a sculpture – in this case, a cast of Auguste Rodin’s Thinker – studying itself in a small video monitor via closed circuit television.  As museum visitors walk around the work and look over the sculpture’s shoulder, their image is also captured by the camera and appears on the screen. Paik’s influential vision of television as a global cultural force found intelligent and witty form in his videotapes, video sculptures, and intercontinental satellite performances. 





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